Fernando Alonso came within two laps of a points finish in his stricken Ferrari after he had to cope with gearbox problems throughout yesterday's race in Sepang. The Spaniard had to do without his clutch for the entire race and used the throttle pedal to help change gears around the 5.5km track. Despite the downshift problems and having to fight his car just to change gear at most corners the double world champion was able to move up from 19th to ninth in the race. He was harrying Jenson Button's McLaren-Mercedes for eighth spot when his engine blew with two laps remaining.
The retirement cost Alonso the championship lead, with teammate Felipe Massa now top, but he was still proud of his efforts. "From the start we had a problem with the gearbox so it was very difficult to drive the car," he said. "For me it was the most difficult race and probably the best race of my life until the problem." Despite seeing his 25 point advantage over Sebastian Vettel whittled away to nothing by the result, Alonso remained positive over his title credentials. "It's a very long championship and we are capable of improving the car a lot," he said. "We know in which areas we need to improve the car, so I'm confident that we can have the best car in the next few races."
Seventh place for Massa moves him two points clear at the top. * Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies