Suzuka , Oct 8, 2011 (AFP) - Two-time world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso admitted he was "not very surprised" to qualify his Ferrari in fifth place for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Despite finishing inside the top four in all three practice sessions ahead of Saturday's qualifying, Alonso could do no better than fifth in the final part of qualifying.
He finished four-tenths of a second adrift of German pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.
The result was the seventh time in 15 races that the Spaniard will start from fifth place this season, and he was pragmatic about the pace of his car. "I seem to have a season ticket for fifth place this year, and at least it means I start from the clean side of the track," he said.
"I am not very surprised by the result. I was pushing to the maximum but I don't think I could have done much better than my second run."
While Alonso was buoyed to qualify ahead of Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull, who finished sixth, he does not expect to be challenging for victory in Sunday's 53-lap race.
"McLaren and Red Bull have been quicker than us all weekend, and at least we have managed to get ahead of Webber.
"We will try and fight for a podium finish, which is realistic. The win is less so (as) McLaren seem very close to Red Bull here."
Alonso's teammate, Brazilian Felipe Massa, out-qualified the Spaniard for the third time this season in finishing fourth, eight one-hundredths of a second ahead of the sister Ferrari.
The 30-year-old driver said he was not concerned with starting alongside Hamilton after the pair had an on-track altercation at the Singapore Grand Prix, which saw the McLaren driver hit with a drive-through penalty and Massa angrily confront the Briton after the race.
"It makes no difference to me if it's him (Hamilton) or anyone else," he said.
"It was a difficult qualifying session but at least we managed to keep one of the four best cars behind us. It's never easy here to put together the perfect lap and my last run was very good, even if I lost a little bit in the final sector."
Massa has failed to finish on the podium this season, with the most recent of his 33 top-three finishes coming at the Korean Grand Prix last October. But the Brazilian is confident he can advance from his starting position on Sunday.
"Our aim is the podium. We're starting one place off it, so it's realistic."