Fernando Alonso has called on his Ferrari team raise its game ahead of the next round of the 2012 F1 campaign, at Suzuka in Japan in two weeks' time, and team boss Stefano Domenicali agrees that the Scuderia cannot continue relying on the opposition to beat itself.
Having lapped nearly a second slower than poleman Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, Alonso started the scheduled 61-lap race on the supersoft tyres before twice stopping to fit the harder prime compound provided by Pirelli. Whatever the strategy, however, the Spaniard was unable to live with the pace of Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the front and, having spent some time trying to overcome the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Force India of Paul di Resta, had to settle for third position, inherited when Hamilton's McLaren lost its gearbox approaching half-distance.
With Vettel going on to take the win, Alonso's lead at the head of the standings was trimmed to 29 points, despite him putting more air between himself and his other main challengers. The Spaniard, however, is concerned that his advantage will continue to be eroded should any one of the frontrunning teams put a concerted run of results together.
"I think we were not very competitive this weekend, so we struggled a little with the pace of the car," he acknowledged, "Yesterday, we managed to put a good lap in Q3 and that was a little bit the best part of the weekend because, if you start at the rear, I think you are having problems all the race, so starting in fifth, it was okay.
"Then the start was so-so. We lost position with [Paul] di Resta, but recovered [it] in the first and second corner, and then we fight a little bit with [Pastor] Maldonado, so I think the safety car arrived in the worst moment for us because we have stopped and changed the tyres five laps before, so we didn't have the pit-stop for free like the others did."
Once that was behind him, however, Alonso was able to up the pace, slowly reeling in the cars ahead of him, and securing third place once di Resta's pit-stop cycle played out.
"I think we were pushing a little bit harder and were in free air," he said of his increased pace, "In the first stint, we were fighting a little bit with Pastor and then we were probably a little bit more competitive with the soft tyre compared to the supersoft, so maybe that was the reason. I think, with all the difficulties, if we put them all together, arriving third in a difficult weekend is a fantastic result in terms of points."
Admitting that he could not fault the Ferrari team for the timing of the first pit call as 'we felt that the tyres were dropping off too much and didn't want to lose too much time', Alonso conceded that it had indeed been a good weekend with Hamilton - second in points before the race - retiring from the lead and Mark Webber initially collecting just a single point for tenth, before being relegated by a post-race penalty. Clearly discounting second-placed Jenson Button as an outsider for the crown, only Vettel's win registered as a setback with the Spaniard on a weekend when Ferrari had not been a match for either Red Bull or McLaren.
"I think it's a very positive weekend," he repeated, "Of the four or five contenders, we lost points with one, with the other three we increased our advantage, so obviously, when we are not quick enough to win more points against three of our opponents, I think it's positive."