MAGNY-COURS, France (Reuters) - Renault have made a big step forward after a difficult start to the Formula One season, their double world champion Fernando Alonso said on Saturday.
“The car has really improved and so for the first time this season we have the real chance to fight for the podium,” the Spaniard said after qualifying in third place for Sunday’s French Grand Prix, the team’s home race.
Although he was helped by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton being demoted from third to 13th for a collision at the previous race, Alonso was genuinely ahead of BMW-Sauber’s championship leader Robert Kubica.
“It seems that we are quite okay in qualifying,” said Alonso, who started on the front row in Barcelona in April and second row in Montreal this month but has scored only nine points in seven races.
“Obviously we need to finish the races and take the points, so far we didn’t finish the job on Sunday,” he added.
“We are happy with the improvements and there is more to come. We know what we miss, what we lack in the car and we are working on it.
Alonso said Ferrari, who swept the front row with Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, were still too far in front but the rest were now in their sights again.
Kubica agreed that was the case, in France at least where BMW-Sauber seemed to be struggling after their stunning one-two finish in Montreal.
“I think Renault is catching up,” said the Pole, who will start in fifth place while German team mate Nick Heidfeld is 11th and behind both Renault drivers.
“Fernando was quite close in Canada, he was close in Monaco, he is in front here.
“It’s Red Bull, Renault, Toyota who look stronger here than used to be in the past.”
Williams team boss Frank Williams, whose team are sixth in the championship and six points ahead of seventh-placed Renault, also saw the French team on the move.
“A massive step,” he said of the former champions’ improvement. “They were struggling for much of the season and suddenly they are in amongst the big boys.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by Justin Palmer