Fernando Alonso has admitted that the combination of Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus appeared unbeatable in the Australian Grand Prix, but refused to blame Ferrari's strategy for his defeat.
The Spaniard, who acknowledged that beating Sebastian Vettel's pole-winning Red Bull into third place had felt like victory in itself [ see separate story
], conceded that, without the intervention of the safety car, he was unlikely to have been able to dice with Raikkonen, who made one stop fewer for tyres than his main rivals.
“I think we were closer to victory in Abu Dhabi [last season] or closer than what we were here today,” he claimed, “We didn't have the pace to fight with Kimi today - he was too fast for us and he did a fantastic job. I think, in Abu Dhabi, it was different with the safety car. I think, with 15 or 20 laps to the end of the race, we really had the opportunity to fight for victory there, [but] today they were too fast.”
Asked whether he could have made his Ferrari's tyres last long enough to match Raikkonen's two-stop strategy, Alonso admitted that the Scuderia had always planned to run three stops and any thoughts of changing were effectively ruled out after getting caught in traffic.
“I think it's difficult to know if we could do two stops,” he conceded, “You need to commit, more or less, to one strategy before the start of the race because you race differently. Obviously, we were attacking - we tried to pass Sebastian [Vettel] in the first part of the race [and], in the second stint, we were again also behind [Adrian] Sutil at that stage of the race. Maybe you can go a little bit longer in the stints, but we have to stop [to] try to overtake these people that we felt they were slower than us and, if you commit to that, obviously there is not a way to find a two-stop.”
Admitting that being squeezed out at the first corner by both Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa had not been ideal, Alonso was also critical of a couple of rookie backmarkers, who he felt had made life as difficult as it had been racing against his expected rivals.
“There is always the flexibility to anticipate the stop, delay the stop, as there is always a margin of three or four laps shorter or longer depending on how the race goes,” he continued, “How the race goes is [based on] the tyre degradation that you are facing through that particular race or the traffic you are facing through that race. In my case, we felt we were a lot faster than the cars in front. We stopped on lap 20 or 21 - we felt we had more pace for 18 or 19 laps so it was the right time to start – and it was enough to jump three place [past] Sebastian, Felipe and Sutil. What we didn't know at the time was the pace of the Lotus - they did a better job than us and maybe we did a better job than the others at the front.”
Despite finishing between Lotus and Red Bull, Alonso insisted that he had not been surprised by much over the course of the weekend but claimed that, while Ferrari was achieving the goals that it had set itself for the start of the season, it could not afford to rest.
“We had a good winter and the car is more or less as we expected,” he noted, “Arriving here and fighting for the podium was the aim of the team - to reduce the gap and to arrive at the start of the season with a competitive package.
“In the winter, the car felt good and the understanding of the car was good, so being on the podium here is some kind of job done, let's say. You always learn some things, and I will talk with the engineers in the debrief about the competition. When you run close to other cars in the first race, you always discover some weak points and some strong points [of the car] and today [there were] a lot of fights, a lot of traffic, a lot of action.
“Lotus, as we saw in winter, were very quick and very consistent, so they had a fantastic weekend, they deserved victory. Red Bull is the quickest car at the moment, first and second in qualifying, first and second in practice, - yes, in the race, they saw a little bit of degradation but that doesn't mean that they are not the fastest.”