When Fernando Alonso entered the paddock in China on Thursday there was no doubting he did so with a huge amount of pressure behind him.
The Spaniard had thrown away a golden opportunity to win in Sepang three weeks previously by hitting Sebastian Vettel, the catalyst for his spectacular front wing failure and retirement a lap later, and with every point in what is set to be another hugely competitive title battle, the importance of bouncing back with a good result was immense.
Alonso was at his nonchalant best at his press call prior to the weekend, coolly playing down the effect of his retirement in Malaysia, but deep down both he and his team knew that another fruitless weekend, even at this early stage of the season, was not an option, and that a strong response was needed under the Shanghai sun.
That response, when it came on Sunday, was emphatic.
In perhaps the most complete performance of his Ferrari career, Alonso put on a driving masterclass in front of the watching fans. He obliterated the field, beating the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen by over 10 seconds with pace still in reserve.
It was a walkover in every way imaginable. From the moment he passed Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for the lead on the fifth lap, Alonso was imperious. His lap times were typically metronomic, his tyre wear was on a par with anyone else, and his racecraft in fighting his way through traffic after his pit stops was exquisite.
There are times in this sport when man and machine just come together during a weekend and create a combination that brushes aside anything that’s put in front of it. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does it takes a minor miracle for anything to beat it.
The true magnitude of Alonso’s advantage over his rivals was demonstrated shortly after his final stop, when he began to lap in the 1:39s, a pace almost a second quicker than anyone else had managed all afternoon. His response when told by his race engineer Andrea Stella not to push, “I’m not pushing.”
Lotus fans can point out Raikkonen’s damaged front wing as a reason for his failure to challenge Alonso for the win, but the reality is that Sunday was just one of those days when one man was head and shoulders above the field. The Ferrari could probably have finished 15, 20, even 25 seconds in front if it had wanted to.
To assume that Raikkonen could have won the race you would also have to assume that Alonso was pushing his car through the entire race, and the time the Lotus would have lost as a result of the front wing damage caused by the collision with Sergio Perez was enough that it would have been enough to get to the Ferrari, assumptions that would both have been wrong.
Alonso’s win has put him right back amongst the championship leaders. He lies just nine points behind Vettel in the standings, and with the knowledge that he has now has a car that can challenge for regular wins on pure performance rather than minor miracles, the Spaniard cuts an ominous presence amongst the frontrunners.
With a matador-like fighting spirit, the right car underneath him, and an immovable resolve to salvage the most that he can from any situation, the tidal wave of momentum Alonso will now take to Bahrain this weekend will be huge, and if he can get himself to the head of the championship, and Ferrari can continue to deliver him a car that can run at the front, it is very difficult to see anyone surpassing the Spaniard over the coming races.
And after several near misses and a seemingly neverending wait for that elusive third title, it looks like everything may just be beginning to fall into place for him.