Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has conceded that Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel was 'on another planet' over the Australian Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne, but putting a positive gloss on a race that saw him miss out on the podium by little over a second, he insists Ferrari is 'in the right zone to be able to win a title'.
Having qualified a disappointing fifth Down Under on Saturday – a gaping 1.4 seconds adrift of pole-sitter Vettel – Alonso then lost further ground at the start of the grand prix when he slipped back to ninth on the opening lap. The Spaniard swiftly disposed of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Mercedes Grand Prix ace Nico Rosberg to move back to seventh, however, and subsequently took advantage of the scrap between his team-mate Felipe Massa and McLaren-Mercedes star Jenson Button to leapfrog the pair of them.
A string of promising lap times then enabled the 2005 and 2006 title-winner to similarly vault ahead of the struggling Mark Webber during the final round of pit visits, but Lotus Renault GP surprise package Vitaly Petrov – Alonso's bitter Abu Dhabi sparring-partner from the end of last year – proved to be a step too far in third. Quipping that he seems to have 'a season ticket for fourth place' around the streets of Albert Park, the 29-year-old remains optimistic but acknowledges that Ferrari has much work to do to catch the runaway Red Bull.
“If you just look at the classification, this is not such a bad result,” remarked the 26-time grand prix-winner once the chequered flag had fallen. “Yes, we have lost ground to Vettel and [Lewis] Hamilton, although we have done better than [Mark] Webber and Button. Here at Albert Park, it seems that I have a season ticket for fourth place, as it's the third time in four years that I've finished the race in this position! Last year, though, we came here off the back of the win in Bahrain, which means that the same result then had a very different feel to it.
“At the start, there was a bit of confusion; I got away well, but then Button headed for me and I had to go wide to avoid a collision. The strategy was just right, though, and it helped me to make up some places. Maybe if I hadn't ended up immediately in traffic, I could have tried to go for two stops but given how things went, we made the best decision.
“Once again today, Vettel seemed to be on another planet, while the others were a bit closer – not to the extent they were on Friday, but at least not as far off as in qualifying yesterday. I finished behind Petrov again like in Abu Dhabi, but at this stage it is more satisfying to have managed to keep Webber – who I reckon will be a more serious rival in the title fight – behind me. KERS worked well as did the moveable rear wing, although it did not make the overtaking moves that easy.
“We are in the right zone for us to be able to win a title, but definitely not if we keep finishing third or fourth. We have to improve, we know that, but it's still too early to make any predictions.”
Both Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and the Scuderia's
new assistant technical director and head of racetrack engineering, Pat Fry, agreed that there is work to do to get the 150° Italia onto the same playing field as its Red Bull and McLaren rivals.
“There is no point in denying that we leave Australia with a sense of disappointment,” confessed the Italian. “Again today, our performance level was not a match for that of the best, especially one of the Red Bulls. Nevertheless, we managed to pick up some valuable points, especially with Fernando, who drove a great race, recovering from what happened to him on the first lap.