The momentum is with Sebastian Vettel after two straight victories to move him within four points of Fernando Alonso as Formula One moves to South Korea at the weekend.
The Red Bull driver dominated Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix as he seeks a third successive drivers’ title, with the 25-year-old German benefiting from Alonso’s misfortune in going out at the first corner.
The Red Bulls had been fastest all weekend, with team-mate Mark Webber also on the front row, and on current form seem to have the beating of Alonso’s Ferrari with five races remaining.
Vettel himself remains cautious, saying each weekend presents a new challenge.
“It seems that we are more on the limit, trying to find a step in the right direction, and that’s true for everyone, so it’s much closer,” he said.
“Every weekend can be different and instead of then having a bad weekend and still finishing fourth or fifth, you might then be only 10th...That is why I say I want to be very careful because it’s still a long way ahead and there’s a lot of things that can happen.” Alonso had started sixth on the grid but was soon out after contact with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen which left him with a puncture.
“Clearly, this result has practically wiped out the advantage I had before, but if I’d been told at the start of the season that we would have been in this situation five races from the end, I’d have happily signed for it,” the Spaniard said.
Alonso said Ferrari would have to “react to the step forward that the other competitors have made” by further developing the car.
“Now we start a sort of mini-championship, run over five grands prix. The aim will be to score at least one point more than all the others,” he said.
While Alonso went out, team-mate Felipe Massa did his hopes of a new contract with the team no harm by finishing second for his first podium place in almost two years.
“They have been two tough years for me and, sometimes, a million things go through your mind, some of them bad, but finally I can be happy,” he said.
“It’s an important result psychologically and also in terms of my future, at least I think so.” The fourth and fifth places for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton respectively were seen as damage limitation efforts by McLaren. In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton remains fourth, 42 points behind Alonso, while Button is a further 21 points adrift.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh insists the team is still in with a chance in “what’s shaping up to be an extremely exciting battle.” Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi’s third place -- his first podium finish -- before homes fans has meanwhile not guaranteed him a place with Sauber from next season.
The Swiss-based team is yet to announce its driver line-up from 2013, and is seeking at least one new driver to replace Sergio Perez who is leaving for McLaren. The decision will be taken before the end of the season.