With the 2011 Formula 1 title decided in Japan, where Sebastian Vettel replaced Fernando as the sport’s youngest-ever world champion, Ferrari decided on a two-pronged approach for the remaining four races: to use the events as extended test sessions for components intended for the 2012 car while striving for second in the drivers’ championship for the 2005/6 world champion.
Thus throughout the weekend the Spaniard tested a new front wing, one developed for next year’s car. The results were extremely positive, as was the race result, with Fernando finishing fifth, crucially just four seconds adrift of a four-car gaggle headed by second-placed driver Lewis Hamilton (McLaren). Thus another podium place was clearly possible for Fernando.
"All in all, it was an interesting race, with plenty of action," he said after a race which brings him to within ten points of McLaren’s Jenson Button, who lies second in the championship with three races to go. The current points standings are: Button 222, Alonso 212, Mark Webber 209, and Hamilton 196, with 75 points still to play for.
More importantly, Fernando is not ruling out victory in the remaining rounds: “We will not give up trying to secure a win in the remaining races of this season. Furthermore, we will continue to work towards next year, trying new things and maybe, taking a few risks with our strategy.” All of which is extremely positive.
The race went to Red Bull’s Vettel, who crossed the line with a 12 second advantage over the quartet after 55 laps of scintillating racing. Although first place was never seriously in doubt, Hamilton, Webber in the second Red Bull, Button and Alonso fought tooth and nail during the closing laps, with each visibly on the limit. In fact, Alonso afterwards stated he had driven “20 qualifying laps in a row…”
Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari was right up there with the leading bunch until delayed by slower traffic after rejoining the race following a planned tyre change. Having qualified ahead of Fernando, the Brazilian was confident of a good race, but sixth was as good as it would get.
"Today, our performance level was better than it had been in qualifying, which has been a constant factor this year. Now we are off to the Indian Grand Prix, a new venue for Formula 1,” he commented before adding that he was looking forward to the country’s inaugural race on 30 October.
The race at the new Budd International Circuit - situated 30 kilometres south of Delhi - joins the likes of Korea and Austin, Texas as new venues as Formula 1 expands into new territories. Russia is scheduled to join the calendar in 2014, and F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone is evaluating applications for further grands prix from another US venue, plus South Africa and Argentina – this despite recently announcing a record-setting 20-event 2012 calendar.
A fortnight after the Indian race the circus heads for Abu Dhabi’s futuristic circuit situated alongside the enormous Ferrari World theme park, with Brazil’s Interlagos circuit outside Sao Paulo hosting the finale on 27 November.