SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND // He started ninth, finished third and saw his championship rival retire, yet Fernando Alonso, so often the optimist, so often quoting idioms of the samurai to showcase his unerring self-belief, cut a solemn figure last night after the British Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver climbed through the field to finish third at Silverstone and close Sebastian Vettel's gap at the top of the drivers' standings to 21 points. However, there was no sign of a smile on the face of the 31-year-old Spaniard, who spoke only of the work that lies ahead.
"We've reduced the gap a little bit in this race, but the pace we saw this weekend is not good enough," Alonso said. "There were some other Sundays that we lost some points and maybe I was more optimistic. Here, we recovered some points, but we know there is a lot of work to do."
Ferrari have shown little relative performance throughout the weekend and yet both drivers finished in the points, with Felipe Massa recovering from a tyre blowout on the 10th lap to finish sixth. Alonso, a two-time world champion rarely slow to speak of his team's talents, put the result largely down to luck.
"We are normally very fast in Friday [practice], it was not the case here. We were not fast in qualifying and not fast in the race. We've been very lucky," Alonso said, adding that he almost saw his race end prematurely.
"On lap nine, I had a tyre problem. My tyre disintegrated in the last corner.
"If this happened in Turn 5 like Felipe, then my race would have been over. It was a very lucky race and I just need to be very thankful and try to improve for next weekend."
Alonso passed Kimi Raikkonen in the closing laps to snatch the final place on the podium. Lotus's Finnish driver was suffering from older tyres and eventually finished fifth after also being overtaken by Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes GP.
"I tried to hold on at the end of the race, but with tyres that were maybe 20 laps older than the others it was impossible to keep them behind," Raikkonen said.
"It's a shame as the race went pretty well until then; we had good pace and looked set for a pretty easy second place, but this is racing sometimes.
"It's three races now where we haven't had the result we maybe expect, but hopefully if we can have a bit more luck, and also get rid of some of the mistakes, we'll be able to get back to the front."
Raikkonen's fifth place also saw the 33-year-old Finn set a new record for most successive points finishes.
The last time the 2007 world champion finished outside the top 10 was 24 races ago, in China last April.
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