Ferrari and Fernando Alonso head to this weekend's F1 season finale confident that fate can still deliver a championship title that, for several weeks, has appeared out of reach.
Prolonging the battle with Sebastian Vettel to Interlagos courtesy of a podium finish in the US Grand Prix, Alonso still has a 13-point deficit to make up, but the forecast of rain for at least part of the Brazilian weekend means that it could be an unpredictable event, even though Vettel doesn't even need to make the podium to clinch a hat-trick of titles.
“Given how things looked yesterday afternoon after qualifying, this result can be seen as positive,” team principal Stefano Domenicali admitted, having okayed the decision to break the seals on Felipe Massa's gearbox in order to promote Alonso to the clean side of the grid.
“Sure, Fernando has lost a few points to the championship leader, but the important thing was to limit the damage so as to arrive at the last race with everything to play for, and that is now the case. Fernando did the most with what he had today, in other words a car that was not capable of fighting for the win. Once again, he produced a stunning opening lap, which lined him up for a podium finish.
“Now we go to Brazil, knowing that everything is still possible. We get there in a completely opposite situation to the one we were in on arrival in Abu Dhabi two years ago…! When you end up fighting for the title at the last race, you have already achieved something important [and] now we will try and stop Red Bull doing the double in a week's time in Interlagos!”
From seventh on the grid – having originally qualified ninth and then been 'promoted' to the dirty side of the grid by Romain Grosjean's gearbox penalty – Alonso went around the outside of Michael Schumacher at turn one to emerge in fourth spot behind the two Red Bulls and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. When Mark Webber's gremlins returned to sideline the #2 car, the Spaniard was promoted to the podium and, although unable to match the leaders, Hamilton's subsequent passing of Vettel meant that the championship damage was limited to just three points.
“The start was very good, as was the first corner - in this second part of the season, we have made up a lot of places in the first few hundred metres,” Alonso noted, “Then I had a good enough pace to get on the podium, but not to fight with the two in front.”
This weekend will be Alonso's fourth time chasing a title at the last race of the season but, unlike Abu Dhabi two years ago, he acknowledges that he is a long way from being the favourite.
“It was an unexpected podium which came at the end of a particularly difficult weekend,” he said of his Austin adventure, “We did not have the pace to match Red Bull and McLaren, so to only lose three points to Vettel is, in fact, a nice present.
“It could have been much worse, but now we will arrive in Sao Paolo in Brazil in with a chance right to the last. Maybe, on paper, that chance is not so big, maybe 25 per cent, but, deep down, I feel it's much more than that. Anything can happen at Interlagos and we saw again how important reliability can be, didn't we?
“Then, there's the chance of rain, and a race in the wet can be very risky - we definitely have nothing to lose. Clearly, if it's dry and we have a normal race, one can expect Red Bull to be in front of everyone and us on the third or fourth row, so the more unknown factors there are, the better it is for us.”