SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 9, 2011 (AFP) - Spain's Fernando Alonso hailed Ferraris return to form at the Japanese Grand Prix as "fantastic" on Sunday after he finished second following a difficult period for the famed Italian team.
From fifth on the grid, Alonso passed Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa on lap six before edging ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton after his first pit stop.
The two-time world champion then advanced past re-crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel when he emerged from his third and final pit on lap 37, and got within a second of race-winner Jenson Button of McLaren with two laps left.
Button set the fastest lap time of the race on the penultimate circuit to give himself some breathing space, but Alonso was buoyant after finishing second, just 1.1secs adrift of the McLaren.
"We had the pace today to fight with McLaren and Red Bull -- it was a fun race," he said. "At the start we did not overtake any cars, but then there was a lot of tyre degradation.
"Its fantastic podium and it is a good thing for the team after difficult races where we were not so competitive. This podium means a lot to the team and is a big motivation."
The podium was Ferraris best result since Alonso finished second to Hamilton at the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in July.
Alonso's eighth top-three finish of the year sees him maintain third place in the drivers championship, eight points behind Button with four races remaining in the season.