F1: Fernando Alonso pins Indian Grand Prix hopes on tyre strategy after qualifying down in eighth

The Ferrari ace is the only driver who can still prevent Sebastian Vettel from winning the title but his task is near-impossible with the Red Bull man on pole

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The Independent Online

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso says his hopes of challenging for victory in Sunday's Indian Grand Prix hinge almost entirely on the performance levels of the Pirelli tyres.

Not for the first time in 2013, drivers' tyre choices are poised to play a huge role in the outcome of a race, with the Pirelli soft compound widely expected to suffer a big drop-off in pace as the laps unfold.

Alonso is the only man who can still derail Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel's bid for a fourth world title, but on the surface has his work cut out with the German putting his car on pole in Saturday's qualifying session and the Ferrari man languishing back in eighth.

The stark difference between their qualifying performances was influenced largely by tyres, however, with Vettel on the quick but fragile soft compound and Alonso electing to start the race on the slower but more hard-wearing medium.

Alonso says the performance differential even between different sets of the soft tyre makes any attempt at predicting what may happen in the race almost impossible.

"The soft tyres are not good, but we need to see tomorrow how they perform," said Alonso.

"In Germany I remember the soft tyres were not working very well and we changed to the start on the prime [harder] tyre, and then on the Sunday the soft tyre lasted very long and we didn't take advantage."

Alonso was second quickest among the drivers who contested the top-10 shoot-out on the medium tyre, with Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber the quickest runner on that compound in fourth place.

Should the soft tyre's performance tail off dramatically, then Alonso is hopeful he will be in a position to challenge for the top step.

"If the [drivers on] softs have some problems and they pit and get traffic, then maybe the race win will be between Webber and me," he said.

"If the soft tyres are lasting longer than expected and they go much longer in the first stint, it will be difficult to recover places. It's not in our hands. It's on a coin - because no one knows how the soft tyres will behave.

"Set to set, it's a random tyre and you need to be lucky with the set you put on tomorrow."

Regardless of tyre choice, the Red Bull have been far away the class of the field at the Buddh International Circuit, with Vettel topping every practice session on his way to claiming his third straight pole at the track.

And Alonso suggested that choosing the alternative strategy to the dominant 26-year-old was his only option.

"If we start with the same strategy as the others, sometimes we don't make any places because we're not as quick as the others," he said.

"We'll see tomorrow. It's only qualifying."