Kimi Raikkonen's slim hopes of taking back-to-back F1 world titles were finally extinguished even as he stood on the podium at Fuji Speedway, celebrating his best result since a similar third place in Hungary.
The Finn remains adamant that he could have won the Japanese Grand Prix had it not been for the first corner fracas that saw both Ferraris, and Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren, forced wide by Lewis Hamilton's ambitious attempt to wrest back the lead, but needed at least a top two finish - with the other contenders' results going the way they did - to even remain in the hunt over the last two rounds.
Third place leaves Raikkonen 21 points adrift of Hamilton with 20 points on the table for the races in Shanghai and Sao Paulo, reducing the title battle to a three-way scrap between the Briton, Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, who refuses to drop out of contention despite claiming that his team has not developed its car since he won in Canada in June.
Despite being misled by one journalist, who claimed that he remained in the hunt, Raikkonen admitted that he was in the worst position of the four drivers who went into the Japanese GP with a shot of taking the title - even if events fell his way over the remaining races as they had in 2007 - and was simply happy to have helped Ferrari reclaim the advantage in the constructors' championship..
"I don't even know the point situation now," he admitted after the race, "It is a bit disappointing what happened in the first corner, as we could have had a better result, but at least I got to the finish this time and got some good points for the team. We will try to do better next race."
Raikkonen had dropped to seventh by the time he recovered from the first corner melee, and only benefitted from Massa turning Hamilton around on lap two - and picking up a penalty as a result - as he struggled to get his Ferrari back up to speed. The world champion admits that he wasn't really sure what happened at turn one, but later discovered that contact with at least one of the McLarens had left him with damage that stunted the performance of his F2008.
"I got a pretty good start and got into the first place, but then, braking into the first corner, I was trying to turn in and there was first one McLaren and then a second - I think they both hit me and I had nowhere to go," he recalled, "I needed to go straight, lost many places and got some damage in the front - but, luckily enough, I was able to get back on the circuit."
Unable to extract the sort of pace he was expecting from his car, Raikkonen lost time behind slower cars that ultimately meant that he was unable to jump Robert Kubica at the pit-stops.
"I was, all the time, behind people," he sighed, "The front didn't feel the same anymore. I think it was Heikki who hit me harder, and the front felt quite light, it didn't feel the same as before, but I didn't know why. I asked if we had damaged something, but I couldn't see what happened really. The car was okay but, for sure, we were missing something as we were not able to be fast enough to catch up with the guys in the front.