By Brian Homewood
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Fernando Alonso goes into the August break with a commanding lead over his Formula One championship rivals, the uncomfortable knowledge his Ferrari is a long way from being the fastest car on the circuit.
The Spaniard has won three of the season's first 11 races but it has been his ability to pick up points in all of his other eight outings, combined with some wily strategic choices by Ferrari, which has put him 40 points ahead of Australian Mark Webber.
"We have a lead of 40 points, courtesy of a car that has not been the best in this first half of the season," said Alonso after his fifth place at Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.
"Now we must try and make a good leap forward in terms of performance to allow us to keep the lead in the championship, because in the long term, what we have now will not be enough.
"We've been saying it all the time," he added. "We finished Canada and said we needed to improve. We finished Valencia and said we needed to improve. At Silverstone we had to improve, and here we have to improve again."
"Because we won a couple of races it seemed that everything was on the right path, but we have never said anything else.
"This weekend, with dry running on Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can see more clearly, but Lotus, McLaren and Red Bull have been ahead of us for the whole championship."
Although Alonso extended his lead over Webber, the rest of the pack is closing in and Ferrari know they must make improvements before the season resumes with races at Spa and then Monza in September.
Sebastian Vettel, Webber's Red Bull team mate, is only two points further behind in third after finishing fourth at Budapest with Lewis Hamilton a further five adrift following his commanding win at the Hungaroring.
"To have finished ahead of one Red Bull and right behind the other in these circumstances was very important because, on paper, we should have expected to finish seventh," said Alonso.
"Hamilton was out of our reach this weekend, but we did not lose much ground to Vettel and these are in my opinion, the strongest of the group that's behind me in the championship.
"If we are where we are, it's because we have always made the most of what we had and because of an excellent reliability record: it's not by chance that you get 23 consecutive points finishes."
Alonso's tactics of targeting Webber rather than trying to chase Hamilton, combined with Ferrari's decision to opt for two rather than three tire changes, paid dividends.
"We made the right choices, which resulted in Fernando getting ahead of at least two cars that were quicker than his," said team principal Stefano Domenicali
"There's a lot to do to reduce the performance gap and to be as well prepared as possible for the last two races still to be run in Europe.
"At Spa and Monza we will race in very different conditions and at very different tracks to Budapest, so anything can happen.
(Editing by Alastair Himmer)