Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso says the team must step up its efforts at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix to keep up its push to snatch the Formula One championship.
Alonso goes to Japan with the momentum of having won the past two races in Italy and Singapore, rising to second in the drivers’ championship standings, 11 points behind Red Bull’s Mark Webber.
“These two consecutive wins have reduced the gap that had built up but we are definitely not leading yet,” Alonso said on Ferrari’s official website. “Now it starts getting serious, we will have to experience some pain and it is time for everyone to give their all, without taking a single backward step.”
With four races left, the season has come down to a five-way fight for the title with McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button holding third and fifth places respectively, while Webber’s Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel is in fourth place.
Two-time world champion Alonso clearly has the momentum. Not only has he won the last two races but the Spaniard claimed pole position for both races and had the fastest laps. No other driver has done that this season, and the feat was achieved on two radically different circuits - indicating the Ferrari can perform on all tracks.
“There are still five drivers in the hunt for the title,” Alonso said. “So many times this year we have seen that the situation can change really quickly, so anything could still happen.”
Vettel, who won last year’s race at Suzuka, finished right on Alonso’s tail in Singapore.
“Ferrari has made a step forward in the last couple of races, so they will be strong and don’t forget McLaren,” Vettel said. “There are still a lot of drivers fighting for the title and they are very close to each other, it’s tight and a lot of things can still happen.”
Webber finished a distant third in Singapore, and he, Vettel and Red Bull are up against title rivals who have all previously won the drivers’ championship.
“I’m optimistic we can do well in Japan and the team did well there last year,” Webber said. “The momentum is currently with Ferrari going into the race, as they have had two victories on the bounce, but the points situation is still very open.”
Hamilton led the championship after winning the Canadian Grand Prix in June but has struggled recently, not finishing three of the last four races including both Italy and Singapore where he crashed out while attempting ambitious passing manoeuvres.
Webber and Vettel may take points off each other during the remaining races, as will the McLaren duo. Alonso doesn’t have that problem since his Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa, is out of contention.
Another factor in the championship race is the status of the Korean Grand Prix, which follows the race here and is scheduled for October 24.
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone expressed concerns at the Singapore GP over whether the track will pass inspection. Under FIA rules, if the track does not pass its inspection, the Korean GP will be scrapped for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
A FIA inspection team will head to Korea from Japan for an inspection of the Yeongam track on October 11. If the race in Korea is scrapped, there will be only three more races this season rather than four, putting added importance up results in Japan.