ABU DHABI, Nov 11, 2011 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso was in a confident mood on Friday after a promising practice session ahead of Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Spaniard finished the day third fastest ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa, but behind McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button who dominated the day's proceedings.
The two-time champion admitted he had not expected to be so competitive.
"It's only Friday and we'll have to see what we can do, but maybe we are a bit more optimistic than we were yesterday because the car behaved well," said Alonso.
"Maybe our position in Q3 will not change much compared to the previous races, but we hope to be closer to them than we were expecting."
The 30-year-old crashed during the afternoon session, as did newly crowned double champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, but Alonso insisted the 20-minute recovery period had not impaired his team's progress.
"It didn't affect us much. We lost some 20 minutes but fortunately Felipe could complete the programme and what we wanted to see, which is the tyre degradation with a a heavy fuel load we have all the data from Felipe. So I don't think it affected us much."
In spite of this, Alonso does not expect to challenge for victory in Sunday, but suggested a podium finish was well within his reach.
He said: "The win is still extremely difficult - I don't think that has changed with today's practice.
"As I said before we are a bit more optimistic because we thought we'd be far from the leaders, and although it's still early we have felt good and the times came pretty easily.
"So maybe tomorrow we are still on the third row of the grid but a lot closer than we expected. If that is the case, then there are a lot more possibilities for the race, especially for the podium, which is always the main target. But the victory maybe it too far away."