SPA, Belgium – Sebastian Vettel silenced doubters with a dominant victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. Still, Fernando Alonso believes he can challenge for the title with eight races left.
Alonso heads to Monza in two weeks with fresh optimism after a second-place finish in which he started ninth on the grid.
It was Alonso at his cavalier best, overtaking established Formula One drivers almost at will. And there was clearly an added zeal in the way he carved his way through the field.
The two-time former champion gave Ferrari a welcome boost following some disappointing races and an internal feud that threatened to disrupt the campaign — until Alonso wisely calmed things down with a public show of support for his team and its president.
Alonso moved back into second place in the title race. While he trails Red Bull's Vettel by 46 points, the Spaniard insists the gap can be closed. He need only think back to last year.
"I was leading with 41 points ahead of Sebastian after the Monza race and I arrived in Texas 15 points behind, so things can change," he said. "Our hopes are to keep improving performance and try to repeat what happened last year the other way around. If you have a competitive car and you win four or five consecutive races, like Sebastian did last year in India, Japan, Singapore, you recover very quickly."
Ferrari's main problem is qualifying speed — Alonso has not been on the front row all season. Yet it is testimony to his driving ability that he has still managed to win two races, although the last of those was the Spanish GP in May.
"We won two of the five races and we were in a position to fight for the podium all the time. At that point, we were a very few points behind the leader," he said. "Then there were some races in the championship where we went backwards in terms of a step in the car and we lost direction a little bit."
Alonso finished fourth at the German GP and then fifth in Hungary as the mood within Ferrari soured heading into the summer break.
The day after the Hungarian GP, Alonso was asked what he would like as a 32nd birthday present, and responded with an acerbic "somebody else's car." That drew a public rebuke from Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo.
Alonso resolved the matter last Thursday, saying it was a misunderstanding stemming from poor translation. He then glowingly praised his president and threw his support behind the team. Still, Alonso expects more from his car if he is to catch Vettel.
"I'm doing what I can," he said. "In the pure performance of the car, we are maybe lacking some performance compared to the others."
Lewis Hamilton, who started from the pole for the fourth consecutive race only to finish third, also feels his Mercedes is not consistent enough.
He entered the race full of confidence after his win in Hungary, and many thought he'd be Vettel's biggest rival the rest of the way.
But he finished 28 seconds behind Vettel on Sunday after being overtaken just 31 seconds into the race: a hammer blow for the 2008 champion.
"I felt that we perhaps didn't have as good a package as these two here," Hamilton said. "I think we've done a decent job, but obviously these guys have done a slightly better job. Whether or not we can make an adjustment before the next race, we'll wait and see."
Hamilton is 58 points behind Vettel — a considerable margin given the number of races left. But Vettel is the last person to believe title talk.
"I am a step-by-step kind of guy," the German said. "What I can say is that I feel very comfortable in the car and feel that we are moving in the right direction."