Despite claiming that his Ferrari team had done everything it could at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso twice had to watch third place become fourth before the chequered flag fell.
Despite the adverse weather forecast, the race was run entirely in the dry, and Alonso made the ideal start by passing Lewis Hamilton off the line to move from fifth to fourth. After pressuring the second McLaren of Jenson Button for several laps, the Spaniard then pulled off an opportunist move around the outside of turn five and, pulling away from the Briton, looked good for a podium finish, even if he could not keep pace with the fleeing Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
However, as the race wore on, and Alonso struggled with a malfunctioning DRS system, the Ferrari fell back into Button's clutches and, having been briefly baulked by one of the Toro Rossos, the Spaniard was powerless to prevent his rival from reclaiming third spot. Ironically, with Webber having been handed the lead by a gearbox problem on Vettel's car, Button's move was also enough to demote Alonso behind the Australian in the overall championship standings - but the double world champion remained positive as he reflected on a trying year for the Scuderia.
“[It was] yet another race in which we did everything to perfection, from the start to the strategy and the work of the team," he announced, "The final result is more down to the performance of the others than our own, because we could not have done more.
"Once again today, we got a very good start, putting a nice passing move on Button, but then, on the medium tyres, we no longer had the speed to fend him off. I also had a problem with the DRS which would not activate - I was not fighting closely with other drivers, but it would certainly have helped me gain a few tenths while overtaking.
"This grand prix produced an accurate reflection of the season, where we have almost always done our maximum, fighting for a podium finish in a car that was not as good as the top two. In terms of teamwork, we grew a lot in 2011 and must absolutely make this the starting point for a very different 2012. If I had to score our performance, I can but repeat what president [Luca di] Montezemolo said, giving us something between a five and six but, all the same, I am proud of what the team was able to do."
Team principal Stefano Domenicali admitted that the team had hoped to end the season with at least one more podium finish, but conceded that it was a tall order without the top two teams running into problems. Although Lewis Hamilton retired from the Brazilian race, he was running behind Alonso at the time, and Button's improvement on the harder Pirelli eventually spelt the end of Ferrari's dream.
"We knew it would be very difficult given the quality of opponent we had ahead of us after qualifying," Domenicali acknowledged, "Fernando came close to achieving our wish, fighting to the bitter end, but he had to settle for looking up at the podium, which along with Webber's win, means he won't be off to India to take part in the FIA Gala for the top three finishers in the drivers' championship: it's a shame because given how he performed this year, [and that] he even scored more points than in 2010. He definitely deserved better."
With changes to the rulebook eliminating straight-forward evolutions of 2011 cars, Alonso knows that Ferrari has a chance to close the gap on Red Bull and McLaren, even if it means a lot of effort over the off-season.
"We need a car that is about five- or six-tenths quicker - achieving that won't be a walk in the park, but I have every confidence in our engineers, in a team that dominated the last decade in F1 and holds every possible record in this sport," he insisted, "Let us not forget that I managed to get on the podium ten times and to score more points than last year. Losing out on third in the drivers' championship is definitely not a big problem. First place is the only one that really counts...”