Stressed Fernando Alonso fighting forlorn battles for Ferrari
Once the prince of Formula One and holder of all the "youngest ever" records, Fernando Alonso will head to Brazil this week battling to keep pace with the sport`s new king of speed.
The two-time world champion Spaniard will also be leading Ferrari`s forlorn fight to finish as runners-up in the constructors` world championship, having secured that position for himself in the drivers` title race with his fifth place finish in Sunday`s United States Grand Prix.
Like most competitors and observers at the Circuit of the Americas, Alonso, 32, doffed his cap to Sebastian Vettel after the 26-year-old German had registered another record-breaking feat in winning his eighth successive race for champions Red Bull.
But behind his dignified show of respect for the supreme team and four-time world champion, he was struggling physically and mentally.
Regarded by many as the finest racing driver of his generation, Alonso has seen his potential to win for Ferrari reduced almost systematically by the stunning speed and reliability of Vettel and Red Bull.
Yet in bringing his Ferrari home to claim second in the championship, Alonso demonstrated again his deep resources of courage and commitment in the most difficult circumstances.
Alonso raced with his body taped up to reduce the pain from his back and the headaches that have dogged him since his 25-G impact on the kerbs in Abu Dhabi two weeks earlier.
Some drivers might have withdrawn from the fray, particularly on a day when Vettel added more lustre to his legend. But not Alonso.
"I`m tired, very tired," he said afterwards. "I didn`t have good preparation for this race physically. I was one week on the sofa or in bed with headaches.
"The race was demanding. It was not an easy race. I had to fight all the way through, so physically I feel tired now. I felt stressed all weekend from all the battles.
"Hopefully I can feel a little bit better in Brazil, less tired, enjoy the weekend a little bit more, but there are still some targets to do with the constructors` championship for us.
"So it`s not as if we race for fun in Brazil. It may seem like that from the outside - that there`s nothing more to fight for, you go to Brazil to race and have fun - but there`s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure on these weekends for the team and we`ll all try to do as well as we can."
The fatigued Ferrari team, without a win since Alonso triumphed in Spain in May - will continue to compete for second place against Mercedes and Lotus, knowing that it could be worth several million dollars in prize money to succeed.
Alonso, however, virtually conceded defeat to Mercedes in the fight for second place after Sunday`s race saw them slide further adrift in third, by 15 points.
"We wanted to close the gap a little bit in the constructors` championship," he admitted. "That was our goal, but we did not have the pace this weekend to do that and we lost points again while Lotus got closer.
"But there`s nothing we can do at the moment. We don`t have the pace, we were too slow all weekend. We fight to be in Q3 and we fight to be in the points on Sunday.
"So we need to do better in Brazil if we want to fight for second place - but I think we need to be more realistic and know that fighting for second place in the constructors` was a dream and maybe that dream is difficult to come true."