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But Ferrari’s decision to publicly back Alonso over teammate Felipe Massa could have played into the hands of opponents as Massa faded badly after being asked to let Alonso pass for a German GP win in July.

Crew changes could also be imminent at the Italian team after the season-ending gaffe, which saw Alonso finish seventh because he was unable to pass Renault driver Vitaly Petrov for 40 laps. A top-four finish would have been enough to secure the title.

“We are Ferrari, which means we are condemned to having to win, so a second place is a defeat; but this is also part of sport and we have to accept it,” team principal Stefano Domenicali said.

Alonso’s situation also highlighted how a lack of overtaking remains a big problem; the drama in the championship race wasn’t often mirrored in the action on the track.

The season started in the Middle East at Bahrain with much enthusiasm after several driver changes and the return of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher. But that start turned into a bore like the finale, which demonstrated how the modern circuits commissioned by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone may be bold and beautiful but often lack bite. And with a new race in India beckoning next season, that seems unlikely to change.

Hamilton stayed in the hunt for the title to the final race for the third time in four years and the 2008 champion expects McLaren to be even hungrier in 2011. Teammate Jenson Button _ champion last year _ was in contention until Brazil.

“Every driver has moments when he could have done better, or would have done something different, so you just have to accept what you have and make the best of it,” said Hamilton, who lost crucial points when he didn’t finish in Monza and Singapore and retired in Spain and Hungary. “I think we have a very good baseline from which to evolve this car into 2011.”

Schumacher, meanwhile, finished ninth overall in a return from three years in retirement that led to questions over 2011 and whether the 41-year-old German driver’s legacy has been negatively affected by his Mercedes stint.

“Looking back at certain events there are reasons to be happy with certain things,” Schumacher said. “Most importantly I am happy to keep on working together because I have fun.”

Fellow German Nico Hulkenberg is looking for a new seat after Williams released him even though he won the pole in Brazil.

Rookie teams Lotus, Virgin and HRT all failed to make any impact on the grid, and Ecclestone even labeled them “cripples” before the close of the season.

Renault, meanwhile, made a strong return in the points after three disappointing seasons. Robert Kubica spearheaded the revival that could see the French team contend in 2011.