Suzuka, Japan, Oct 7, 2011 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso was encouraged by Ferrari's improved showing in practice at the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday. The two-time world champion finished fourth in the first practice session, seven-tenths of a second adrift of Briton Jenson Button, and the 30-year-old Spaniard narrowed the deficit to Button to 0.174secs in afternoon practice, where he finished second.
Alonso was cautiously optimistic of a better showing at Suzuka than Ferrari had at Singapore a fortnight ago, where he finished fourth but well off the pace set by Red Bull and McLaren.
"What we can say is that the feeling from today is a little bit more encouraging than in previous races," Alonso said. "I don't think that things are so different to what they were two weeks ago, especially as our cars are pretty much unchanged. We hope to be able to fight with McLaren and Red Bull, but we know it won't be easy.
"Our target is to fight for the podium in the races that are now to the end, but we know that Red Bull tomorrow will be very strong (in qualifying), as normally they are on Saturday. "On this type of circuit, the normal result is Red Bull first and second,
so we need to fight with McLaren for the third position."
Alonso's teammate Felipe Massa finished the two practice sessions in seventh and fifth places respectively. The 30-year-old Brazilian hopes for a stronger showing in Sunday's 53-lap race than in recent Grands Prix, as he has finished no better than sixth in the past four races.
Massa said: "I think it was a good Friday, the car feels good, and I hope better than the last races. "The race here will not be easy in terms of tyre degradation, so that is something that we need to be aware of with the right strategy as well."