It's long been acknowledged by Ferrari and by lead driver Fernando Alonso that their qualifying performances have been their Achilles Heel in the last two seasons. However, that's been balanced by strong race pace that has allowed them to fight their way back up the running order on Sunday.

But not this Sunday, it seemed, with Alonso admitting that for the first time the Ferrari had been found wanting on race day, meaning that he finished one place down on his starting grid position by the chequered flag.

"It wasn't a surprise to be off the pace in qualifying, as that's been the case since the start of the season," he said. "But the fact that we didn't have the pace in the race was one.

"Unfortunately at the start I couldn't keep the Sauber behind me and that meant I had a particularly stressful race in terms of the tyres," he explained.

Alonso was lucky not to get taken out by contact with his own team mate Felipe Massa, who was spun while going into the hairpin on turn 1. Even though it put him at the back of the field, it proved a lucky escape compared with what might have been for Massa, when the car emerged unscathed.

"I found myself in the middle of a group, all of us fighting and I decided to go down the inside to try and brake later," he recalled. "Unfortunately, some of the cars were slower and in order to avoid driving into one of the Mercedes, I was forced to move over to the right, ending up in a spin.

"Luckily, the car was alright, but at that point I was contemplating a race from the back of the pack. Thanks to a few nice passing moves I still managed to bring home some points, which was a good thing compared to how it looked after the start," he added after finishing in ninth place between the McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.

The lap 1 incident hadn't ruffled Alonso: "What happened to Felipe at the third corner was not a problem for me: there were a lot of us there at that point and someone must have touched him. I tried to avoid him and continued without it affecting my race."

Alonso was unable to get past Hulkenberg because of the impressive traction displayed by the Sauber in Yeongam, and then spend the latter half of the race locked in a tense battle for position with Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes. But it was the huge gap in performance terms opened up by race winner Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull team at the front that was really concerning the Spaniard.

"This is super performance and they deserve it, they are the best ones at the moment, they are winning everything and we have to do better," he admitted.

Alonso never got to tangle directly with Vettel this weekend, but he had been on the receiving end of a sweeping overtaking move from Vettel's team mate Mark Webber and been worryingly impressed by what he'd seen of his rival's level of performance.

"The place where Webber overtook me at turn 6, we need to have another category of car because if not it's impossible to do Turn 4, Turn 5 behind another car and be side-by-side," he said. "Vettel is a very long way off in terms of points, but above all in performance terms."

Vettel is now so far ahead of Alonso in the points, that should the German win next weekend in Japan and Alonso finishes no higher than ninth place then the 2013 title will be decided with four of the 19 races of the season still to go. Alonso seemed resigned to the fact that given if it didn't happen at Suzuka, a fourth title for Vettel was now unstoppable.

"We cannot expect miracles between now and the end of the championship," he admitted. "Second place in the Constructors' championship is probably a more realistic target. But one thing's certain - we are not giving up now and we will give it our best shot right to the very end."