Fernando Alonso has admitted that, with tyre wear a key issue in the Japanese Grand Prix, the only way to make up places was to out-fumble the opposition in the pits.
The Spaniard started on the inside of row three after being out-qualified, not only by both McLarens and Sebastian Vettel, but also by Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, but a solid run - both on track and in the pits - throughout the 53 laps ensured that he was in position to fight for the podium.
"I think it was a good race, and a good weekend in general, for us," Alonso, who lost his mantle as the sport's youngest double champion to Vettel, confirmed, "Trouble-free in practice and then a good qualifying performance, fourth and fifth, in front of [Mark] Webber, so the car was quite competitive here.
"At the end, with a perfect race, good start, good strategy, good pit-stops and a good pace throughout the race, second feels much, much better than we expected before the start at three o'clock. It is a good result and gives us some extra motivation for the remaining races knowing that it is going to be tough as the updates on the car will be minimal but, in some races, some circuits, we are still competitive, so why not fight for victory in one of the remaining races."
Interestingly, Alonso could not recall passing anyone for position during the entire race, suggesting that he sweeping move on team-mate Massa was engineered rather than spontaneous, but paid tribute to the Ferrari team for the timing and execution of its pit-stops, which resulted in the #5 car emerging ahead of Vettel at the third and final round of stops.
"From the start, we didn't overtake any car, but the strategy was quite important, with a lot of tyre degradation, so we picked the right moment to stop and we had the pace today to fight with McLaren and Red Bull and, finally, take a fantastic podium," Alonso reflected, "I think it is a good thing for the team after difficult races where we were not so competitive that we came back to a good level here, and this podium means a lot for the team. It's a lot of motivation for the remaining races of this year and, for sure, a big boost for next year's motivation."
Although Vettel closed on the Ferrari, a combination of Alonso's defence and unhelpful backmarkers denied the champion-elect a shot at retaking second place.
"It was difficult to keep him behind as, at that part of the race, he was quicker than us," the Spaniard conceded, "I tried to defend the position in braking for the last corners, and into the first corner as well, where the DRS was active. After we had done this job, we saw we were catching Jenson a little bit, so we tried in the last couple of laps. But, as we saw later on, Jenson was taking care about tyres, about his car, so it was impossible to fight for victory this time.
"But we started fifth and, when you start fifth, you have to recover through the race to arrive two seconds behind the leader. If you start second or third, that gap is already done maybe ten laps before the end."
Asked whether he was disappointed at losing his record to Vettel, however, Alonso threw down a gauntlet to the young pretender.
"I think now we need to see who is the youngest three
-time world champion," he quipped.