Alonso: Ferrari needs to do better at Suzuka
Fernando Alonso has called on his Ferrari team raise its game ahead of the next round of the 2012 F1 campaign, at Suzuka in Japan in two weeks' time, and team boss Stefano Domenicali agrees that the Scuderia cannot continue relying on the opposition to beat itself.
Having lapped nearly a second slower than poleman Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, Alonso started the scheduled 61-lap race on the supersoft tyres before twice stopping to fit the harder prime compound provided by Pirelli. Whatever the strategy, however, the Spaniard was unable to live with the pace of Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the front and, having spent some time trying to overcome the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Force India of Paul di Resta, had to settle for third position, inherited when Hamilton's McLaren lost its gearbox approaching half-distance.
With Vettel going on to take the win, Alonso's lead at the head of the standings was trimmed to 29 points, despite him putting more air between himself and his other main challengers. The Spaniard, however, is concerned that his advantage will continue to be eroded should any one of the frontrunning teams put a concerted run of results together.
"I think we were not very competitive this weekend, so we struggled a little with the pace of the car," he acknowledged, "Yesterday, we managed to put a good lap in Q3 and that was a little bit the best part of the weekend because, if you start at the rear, I think you are having problems all the race, so starting in fifth, it was okay.
"Then the start was so-so. We lost position with [Paul] di Resta, but recovered [it] in the first and second corner, and then we fight a little bit with [Pastor] Maldonado, so I think the safety car arrived in the worst moment for us because we have stopped and changed the tyres five laps before, so we didn't have the pit-stop for free like the others did."
Once that was behind him, however, Alonso was able to up the pace, slowly reeling in the cars ahead of him, and securing third place once di Resta's pit-stop cycle played out.
"I think we were pushing a little bit harder and were in free air," he said of his increased pace, "In the first stint, we were fighting a little bit with Pastor and then we were probably a little bit more competitive with the soft tyre compared to the supersoft, so maybe that was the reason. I think, with all the difficulties, if we put them all together, arriving third in a difficult weekend is a fantastic result in terms of points."
Admitting that he could not fault the Ferrari team for the timing of the first pit call as 'we felt that the tyres were dropping off too much and didn't want to lose too much time', Alonso conceded that it had indeed been a good weekend with Hamilton - second in points before the race - retiring from the lead and Mark Webber initially collecting just a single point for tenth, before being relegated by a post-race penalty. Clearly discounting second-placed Jenson Button as an outsider for the crown, only Vettel's win registered as a setback with the Spaniard on a weekend when Ferrari had not been a match for either Red Bull or McLaren.
"I think it's a very positive weekend," he repeated, "Of the four or five contenders, we lost points with one, with the other three we increased our advantage, so obviously, when we are not quick enough to win more points against three of our opponents, I think it's positive."
With several circuits remaining where Ferrari is similarly expected to struggle against its main rivals, Alonso is nonetheless worried that his lead could yet be eroded.
"I think, all this year, we've all been up and down," he noted, "For sure, we need to improve the performance we saw here. We struggled all weekend - positions five and 13 for our cars [in qualifying] is not what we were hoping for, so we need to be in a better position at Suzuka. Maybe Silverstone is quite similar to Suzuka and we were quite okay there, so hopefully we can repeat that kind of performance."
Team principal Domenicali, while echoing Alonso's summation of the Singapore weekend, share similar sentiments when it comes to the rest of the season.
"It was a very difficult weekend, but the final outcome can be regarded as positive," he confirmed, "It's true that Fernando's lead over the next man has been reduced, but it's also true that he has made up points on three of his four closest rivals. As for the constructors', the situation is pretty much the same as before. The leader is a bit further away but second place is a tiny bit nearer.
"Performance today was definitely better than we had seen in qualifying, [but][ there are six grands prix to go to the end of the season and, clearly, we need to make a step forward in terms of performance, because we cannot rely purely on the misfortune of others. Where we need to improve a lot is on circuits that require maximum aerodynamic downforce. Having said that, we mustn't overreact as it's better to bring a few updates that work rather than bringing too many. This is the area where we need to improve and it will be one of our priorities in the coming days. The other, which is as always the number one priority, will be reliability: the further on the championship goes, the higher the price you pay for the slightest error.