Alonso hopes to make push for title at Suzuka

by Jim Armstrong

The Associated Press

SUZUKA, Mie Pref. — Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso says the team must step up its efforts at the Japanese Grand Prix to maintain its push for the Formula One championship.

Alonso heads into this weekend’s race with some momentum after winning the last two in Italy and Singapore and rising to second in the drivers’ championship standings — 11 points behind current leader Mark Webber of Red Bull.

“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 the third and fifth spots, respectively, and Webber’s Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel in fourth place.

Alonso, a two-time champion, has claimed the pole position in each of the last two races and posted the fastest individual 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, failing to finish three of the last four races — including both Italy and Singapore, where he crashed out while attempting ambitious passing maneuvers.

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.