It is becoming something of a tradition now that Fernando Alonso takes a mediocre qualifying and turns it into a valuable podium finish and he did it again at the Singapore Grand Prix when he turned seventh on the grid to second place at the end of the race, doing most of the work between the time the red lights went off to Turn 3. The Ferrari driver spoke of his night shift at Marina Bay Circuit.
You made a lot of fans very happy again. Tell us about your start, it was electric…
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, it was a fantastic start. We knew that we didn’t have the pace today so we [had] to invent something. The first possibility was the start, then different strategy compared to the others. We did both things: a very good start and a different strategy. I think it paid off at the end. A fantastic podium, a second place that tastes like a victory for us.
You pitted on lap 25 and put on the tyres that you ran to the end of the grand prix. When was that decision made? And how do you keep your tyres in [shape] when we saw the McLarens and many other drivers struggling with hopeless grip by the end?
FA: Yeah, it was a risky move but as I said, we are in a position in the championship where we have nothing to lose. To finish second in the race or to finish fifth: it doesn’t matter too much to be honest so we push, we take care of the tyres, the car was performing really well in the race. And the fans pushed us a little bit to gain some extra tenths today.
Vettel had some speed you just couldn’t live with though…
FA: Yeah, they were too fast all weekend and we have to congratulate them for a fantastic weekend and next time we will try to do better.
Seventh on the grid, second at the finish. Obviously your brilliant start contributed to that but also the strategy and a brave call to pit under the Safety Car and go to the finish on a set of mediums. What is that? 36 laps? How did that feel in the cockpit?
FA: It was not easy, obviously, to finish the race with those tyres but we commit to that strategy when we pit under the Safety Car and we were controlling the pace all through the last stint thanks to the gap that we managed to build. Yes, the start again was very good and I was lucky to choose the right line. On Turn One there is always people going on the left, people going on the right in every circuit. We’ve managed so far to choose the right one. And then we were third which was already a good result for us. But when we didn’t stop Rosberg pitting [under] the Safety Car, we decided to pit and to try something different. We were too slow this weekend. We were not in a level that we should be. We try a little bit different things and it pay off at the end with a fantastic second place. For us it tastes like a victory today.
You say you were too slow. You bought updates this weekend hoping it would get you closer to the pace of the Red Bull. That hasn’t come through. You’re now 60 points behind with six races to go. Does it feel like kind of a water torture? Do you have a trick? Do you have any thoughts on how you can turn this around?
FA: Well obviously we have to be realistic. A few races to go already, the gap is still increasing every weekend and now it’s sixty points. So, as I said, we need to be honest with ourselves and knowing that we need a lot of luck. We don’t [just] need luck in Korea; we need luck in Korea, in Japan, in India, in Abu Dhabi… we need luck every weekend if we are one second off the pace. We need a lot of luck. On the other hand, we are a very uncomfortable opponent, I think, because if we get that luck, we will be there.
Another strong drive, another strong second place but Seb just keeps extending his lead. Is there some sense of inevitability or perhaps acceptance on your part that you have to wait yet another year for that first world title with Ferrari?
FA: Well, as I said, there’s nothing we can do. Obviously we try our maximum, we’re trying to improve the car for every race and we are doing it but obviously not enough compared to our opponents. They are doing a better job than us, they are fantastic every weekend. They are winning and they deserve those wins. This is a sport, someone always has to win and the best one wins and we are not the best ones at the moment but we will keep working.
You did 36 laps with the same set of tyres; did you have any reference that the tyre could support the race conditions or were you just playing the game?
FA: We didn’t know exactly how long the tyres would survive. We were maybe not expecting that long but…we are sixty points behind in the championship, if it works OK, if it doesn’t work maybe we don’t finish second, we finish fourth or fifth. It’s nothing really…what we can do. There was a small chance that if Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton were not that slow after the Safety Car, maybe Sebastian didn’t get the 28 seconds necessary to exit [the pits] in front of me but Nico, I think, had a problem with the front wing, Webber was without tyres and Hamilton pitted very late, the last. So when I had a free track and Seb pitted and exited in front of me already so we had a small chance to maybe lead the race but obviously very difficult to keep Sebastian…probably in the last part of the race with new tyres and we with a very slow pace. But we tried, nothing to lose and I think that will be the strategy in the last part of the championship. We are not as fast as they are in qualifying or in the race so we will try something different.
A lot of people are talking about how this championship is finished. What’s your mentality, no surrender? Do you think there are some tracks where you can try to win? What is the situation?
FA: Well, as I said before, it’s very difficult. Nothing changed too much over the last two or three grands prix. We need to be very lucky but not only in one weekend, we need to be lucky for the last six races if we want to win the championship. We have a points deficit which is a big gap and we have a performance deficit which is a big gap so we need to be very lucky. We saw today, again: Webber stopped on the last lap. If this happen[s] to Sebastian one weekend, we have to be there, in second place. If we cannot win the race, we need to be right behind and try to take any opportunity but being realistic, we know that we need to be very very lucky.
Whose call was it to try to stay out? Was it your call or was it from the team to try to stay out and to change the strategy?
FA: It was the team. I asked how may laps to go and they told me 36 and they said we will pit and then we will decide. At that moment, we lost only two positions with Webber and Hamilton so if we pit we will have new tyres for the restart and then looking at the Safety Car it was quite long etc, they were telling me ‘our aim is to go to the end’ so from the restart, taking care of the tyres for 32 laps.
Do you feel confident that Ferrari will be able to close the performance gap to Red Bull next season?
FA: Well, I think we start from zero next year, completely from zero. Big change in regulations so it’s our best opportunity to close the gap. This year was a continuation in a way. I think we started in a good way, we were competitive in Australia, maybe not in qualifying but in the race we were taking care of the tyres very very well, together with Lotus. We won in China, we won in Spain and then we seemed to lose a little bit of performance, especially when the 2012 Pirelli tyres came back so that was probably our point in the championship; when they changed the tyres, we said bye bye. For next year I think we start from zero. Really we will put all our effort and hopes into 2014, because starting from zero is our best opportunity to close the gap with all the top teams.
We heard during the race a radio message from [Andrea] Stella (Fernando’s race engineer) when he said ‘take care of the tyres, we have to put on the car the Supersofts, take care of di Resta, he’s behind you.’ It was a tricky joke for everybody else, to push Mercedes to stop again?
FA: I think it was maybe not clear on TV because, at least, what they told me, was take care of Paul behind because he’s on Supersoft, new Supersoft and I was on Medium, so there was a performance advantage, as Seb said before, of around one second in the first couple of laps, so I knew that maybe Paul was trying to attack me in those first laps with fresh supersoft. So that was the message: be careful with di Resta.
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