SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Felipe Massa boosted his chances of staying at Ferrari with a first podium appearance in two years on Sunday while championship leader Fernando Alonso’s title hopes suffered a major setback.
Brazilian Massa finished second in Japan, his best result since July 2010 when he was runner-up in Germany and his first top-three finish since he was third in South Korea in October 2010.
Team mate Alonso, who had started with a 29-point advantage over Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel with six races remaining, spun out at the start on Sunday after being tagged by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus and suffering a cut tyre.
Vettel won and slashed the lead to four points.
Asked whether his strong performance would help to secure his seat at Ferrari in 2013, Massa told reporters: ”I think so.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning of many podiums now.”
Alonso again cursed his luck, with former Ferrari champion Raikkonen again playing the role of spoiler.
The Finn had spun his Lotus off in the final seconds of Saturday qualifying, preventing Alonso from posting a lap quicker than his sixth-placed effort, and then tagged the Ferrari at the first corner of the race to send it spinning into the gravel.
“Today we were very unlucky,” said the Spaniard.
“To finish a race like this, at the very first corner, is really a shame. Contact from Raikkonen caused a puncture to the left rear tyre and my race ended there.”
Alonso called on Ferrari to work hard on the development of the car but said he was not worried, knowing that the misfortune he had suffered could equally apply to others.
“Now we start a sort of mini-championship, run over five grands prix,” said the Spaniard. “The wheel turns and that is what races are all about.”
Team principal Stefano Domenicali agreed that it had been a tough weekend.
“I don’t believe in luck but given what’s happened these last couple of days, I‘m considering changing my mind,” he said. “The gods that didn’t shine on us yesterday definitely took a shot at us again today.”
Congratulating Massa on a “splendid race” and “truly impeccable performance”, he would not be drawn on the Brazilian’s future.
“One step at a time,” said Domenicali. “Now we are enjoying this lovely podium together.”
Editing by Clare Fallon