Double world champion Fernando Alonso has cautioned that he expects 'some pain' for himself and Ferrari between now and season's end as he and his four fellow title protagonists go head-to-head in Japan, Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi for the honour of clinching the coveted F1 2010 drivers' crown.
He might be second in the points standings – eleven markers adrift of current world championship leader Mark Webber – but it is indisputably Alonso who arrives at Suzuka for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix with the momentum on his side, buoyed immensely by back-to-back triumphs on Ferrari's home turf at Monza and then again in Singapore last time out.
Whilst McLaren-Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull Racing are similarly all very much in contention to lift the laurels – blanketed as the quintet are by a mere 25 points, or the equivalent of a single race victory – Alonso is widely-considered to be the danger man by most observers. However, in a tense and exciting campaign that has ebbed-and-flowed from one driver to another and doubtless has more fascinating twists remaining in-store, the Spaniard warns that the toughest phase could be yet to come.
“The hard part is still ahead of us,” acknowledged the 29-year-old. “Now it starts getting serious. We will have to experience some pain, and it is time for everyone to give their all without taking a single backward step. I have kept in touch with the team all the time and I know that in Maranello, everyone is delighted with [the Singapore] win – that's how it should be, and I'm happy too
“These two consecutive wins have reduced the gap that had built up, but we are definitely not leading yet. There are still five drivers in the hunt for the title, and so many times this year we have seen that the situation can change really quickly, so anything could still happen. What is certain is that if any of the five put a foot wrong, then it will be even harder for them. I stick with my belief that the key is to always finish on the podium and then do the maths in Abu Dhabi.
“The wins at Monza and in Singapore inspire confidence, especially as they came after a difficult season, in which our championship chances have often hung by a thread. Winning on two very different types of track confirms that our car is very versatile, so we can tackle the coming races without any fear.”
That being the case, Alonso is eagerly anticipating his Japanese adventure, and he and Vettel are the only two of the five contenders for glory to have previously ascended the top step of the podium at Suzuka, the Oviedo native with Renault in 2006. He is confident in his and Ferrari's chances of adding to that success four years on.
“To win on this track gives a special emotion, because it's one of the hardest tracks in the world,” mused the 25-time grand prix-winner. “To succeed here you need to have a car that is very strong from the aerodynamic point-of-view – in some ways, it's similar to Silverstone and Barcelona.
“There's a very special first section characterised by a very long first bend and a series of Esses that can have a major influence on the lap time if you don't get them absolutely right. It's a track that's very demanding both on the technical side and when it comes to driving.
“The F10 has proved it is competitive at very different tracks such as Monza and Singapore, though, so there is no obvious reason why it shouldn't be the same at Suzuka – but to start understanding where we really are, we will have to wait until Friday afternoon after we've gone through the first two sessions of free practice. To race at Suzuka is special also for the enthusiasm of the Japanese fans, who are truly passionate. We hope to offer them a good show this weekend.”