Two weeks after trailing home a distant ninth in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was delighted to join the two Mercedes drivers on the podium in China, after a remarkable turnaround in fortune for the Ferrari team leader.
Having comfortably out-qualified team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the wet on Saturday, Alonso survived heavy contact with former team-mate Felipe Massa in turn one before using pit strategy to usurp Sebastian Vettel and lead the pursuit of Lewis Hamilton for much of the 56-lap event.
“It was a big contact and I asked on the radio 'can you check the car' because it felt okay, but I don't know [how it looked] from the outside,” Alonso reported, “It was okay and we were very lucky to finish the race. Hopefully, the next one will be a cleaner start…”
Although he eventually had to give best to the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, the Spaniard was only seven seconds behind the world championship leader at the chequered flag and cut a happy figure as he accepted his first silverware of the season.
“It's been a good weekend and we have improved the car compared to the first three races,” he commented, “We felt more competitive, but being here on the podium is some kind of surprise for us – a nice surprise.
“I'm happy with a podium finish today and I think I'm third in the drivers' championship behind these two guys. We didn't have the start to the season that we would have liked but at the end of the day were still in the fight.”
Having shown signs of improvement in the post-Bahrain test, Alonso was able to confirm the step forward during Friday practice in Shanghai and, although Saturday proved wet throughout, found that he needed very few tweaks to his F14-T to remain competitive in the race.
“We made very few changes [between FP1 and the race] to be honest,” he noted, “We brought some new parts here, some small steps, so we are probably a little more competitive now, but we concentrated on testing those parts and not much on set-up work, especially with yesterday's wet conditions.
“It's satisfying. We've had a difficult start to the season with some lack of performance in the first races, so it's good to be on the podium here in the fourth race, especially after a not so easy weekend, with changeable weather conditions. It was a difficult race as well with the tyres being a unique [factor], with the fronts graining. You need to take care [of them], but there was a lot of action as we were not alone in the race. But we managed them well to get this podium and, hopefully, this will be a boost for the team, some extra motivation to keep improving and do even better in the next couple of races.”
With the next stop on the calendar being his home race in Barcelona, the scene of his last trip to the stop step of the podium a year ago, Alonso was asked whether he could expect a repeat in three weeks' time, but admitted that it would be a tall order to even think of that possibility.
“[China] is a very unique race and we made a step forward, because we were ninth and tenth 15 days ago and that was hard,” he commented, “So we've gained a little bit but we need to remain calm. We are happy with the result today, but there is still a long way to go before we can promise anything for Barcelona. We will still give 100 per cent and we will fight but, in terms of results, we need to remain calm and see how we can develop in these three weeks.
“It is a priority to get close [to Mercedes], and we need to catch them as soon as possible or the championship is over. We will keep scoring points, as many as we can now when we are not super competitive and if, at some race, we get as competitive as them, try to catch up in the points. At the moment, it seems very far away because they have a big advantage and we have to work very hard to have that possibility.
“There is nothing special to it. We must not give up - we are in the fourth race of the championship and there is still a long way to go – but, being super realistic, the gap is still very big.”