By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified only fifth for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix but the Formula One title contender still felt his spirits lift.
After qualifying 10th at the British Grand Prix (although he started ninth) and eighth in the most recent race in Germany, fifth was a sure sign of progress - particularly at a circuit where Ferrari had feared they would not be competitive.
"I think it was a little miracle today to be fifth," the Spaniard told reporters at the Hungaroring. "It is a track that has been historically not so good for Ferrari, with these slow speed corners.
"To be today a little bit closer to the pole position is good news, especially after 10th on the grid in Silverstone and eighth in Nuerburgring. Coming back to the top five is good news."
Alonso is second overall in the championship after nine of 19 races and needs to start eating into Sebastian Vettel's 34-point lead soon if he is to stop Red Bull's triple world champion from becoming a quadruple one.
Hungary, the slowest permanent circuit and second slowest after Monaco, is not easy to overtake on even with the rear wing DRS system but Alonso was confident he could move further up the order on Sunday.
The Spaniard, winner at home and in China this season, will at least have the advantage of starting on the 'clean' side of the track.
"The laps were good, the preparation was good, the team was doing a very good job to set up the car for the characteristics of the circuit," he said of qualifying. "It's going well and hopefully tomorrow we can recover some positions and deliver in the race.
"He (Vettel) starts second and we start fifth so the first opportunity will be at the first corner."
Lewis Hamilton starts on pole for Mercedes.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by Ken Ferris)