AUSTIN, Texas, Nov 18, 2012 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso said finishing third in Sunday's United States Grand Prix was, for him, as good as a win after he had qualified only ninth for Ferrari on Saturday.
He was soon after elevated to eighth because of a gearbox-change penalty for Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and, on Sunday, advanced another position -- and to the clean right side of the grid -- when his team decided to incur a penalty for Brazilian Felipe Massa by breaking the seal on his car's gearbox.
It was a pragmatic strategic decision to give the two-time champion Spaniard a better chance at the start of the race and he grabbed it when the lights went out.
"We know that our championship is alive thanks to the first laps," said Alonso.
"We always qualified around seventh or eighth and finish the first lap in the first three or four positions.
"And after that, the race becomes a bit easier if you are in leading group. Today we knew we had a good chance. I tried to overtake people at the first corner and then the pace improved and we were in the leading group.
"It was not possible to have the pace of these two guys (Lewis Hamilton and Vettel). They were too far ahead, but I had enough to keep the guys behind.
"This weekend it is like a victory for us. Losing just three points was something no one thought yesterday night or Friday night after practice. So we are happy to have another good Sunday and score good points again."
Alonso swept up to fourth on the opening lap and inherited third when Australian Mark Webber retired in the second Red Bull car.
His result kept alive his title challenge with one race remaining in Brazil next Sunday. He is now 13 points behind defending champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull who finished second on Sunday.
Alonso has not won a race since the German Grand Prix in July and needs to finish at least third to have a chance of winning the title in Sao Paulo. If he wins, he would need Vettel to finish outside the top four.
He added: "We go to Brazil with the possibility to fight for the championship.
"It is something we have been fighting for during the whole year. Only Seb is in a better position than us. We should be proud of ourselves, enjoy the race and see at the end what the outcome is."