Hockenheim: Ferrari have a real chance of winning Sunday`s German Grand Prix after taking a "massive step" forward, double world champion Fernando Alonso said on Saturday.
The Spaniard qualified on the front row of the Formula One grid for the first time this season at Hockenheim after lapping a mere two thousandths of a second slower than Red Bull`s pole setter Sebastian Vettel.
Alonso won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where Brazilian Felipe Massa qualified second, but Ferrari have suffered repeated setbacks since then and two weeks ago in Britain failed to score points for the first time this year.
Massa, on the eve of the anniversary of the big crash in Hungary last year that ended his season, qualified third at Hockenheim.
"In the last two or three grands prix (there has been a) massive step forward for the Ferrari team. Now (we are) both here in the top three so this is the way we have to continue and keep improving," Alonso told a news conference.
The Spaniard had warned after setting the pace in Friday`s practice that the Red Bulls would find something extra for qualifying and he was surprised to find himself so close to Vettel.
If a first pole since 2008 eluded the team, who are now third overall and 113 points behind leaders McLaren, they were closer than ever.
"I was expecting a very strong reaction in Q3 (the third part of qualifying) from Red Bull and very tough competition and we are in a way surprised to be that close and finally fighting for a pole position after 10 races," said Alonso.
"It took a little bit long but now we are very close."
"All the steps that we made in the last three races were very important," continued the 28-year-old, who was quickest in the first two phases of qualifying.
"Some of them improved the car in high speed corners, some of them in the slower speed parts. Everything is helping now to make the car much better, much more competitive, so I`m happy to finally be closer to Red Bull."
Alonso has had his last two races compromised by the deployment of the safety car but he told his team after Silverstone that, with half the season to come, all was not lost and they could still win the championship.
"I think we need to win the race, that`s the best thing for the championship, and I think we really have the possibility here to win the race because we are competitive," he said on Saturday.
Ferrari introduced a `blown` rear diffuser in Valencia last month that has helped close the gap on Red Bull, who pioneered the system.
They also now have an `F-duct`, which stalls the rear wing for added straight line speed, of the kind that McLaren were first to introduce.
"We had the possibility in Bahrain, we took it. I think we had the possibility in Canada. We didn`t manage to do it and tomorrow maybe we have another opportunity so hopefully tomorrow we can do it," said Alonso.