Fernando Alonso declared his third place in the United States Grand Prix as satisfying as a victory after a difficult qualifying on Saturday.
The Ferrari driver qualified in ninth position, but moved up to eighth because of a gearbox-change penalty for Lotus Romain Grosjean.
On Sunday the Spaniard was elevated to seventh position on the grid after the team decided to incur a penalty for Felipe Massa in order to give Alonso a better chance at the start.
The double champion made good use of that and moved to fourth on the opening lap before he inherited third when Mark Webber retired. The result allowed Alonso to stay in the championship fight going into the final race of the season in Brazil, as he is now 13 points behind second-place finisher Sebastian Vettel.
The Spanish driver admitted the opening lap was crucial for his hopes.
"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.
"Today was not possible to have the pace of these two guys [Lewis Hamilton and Vettel]. They were too far ahead. 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, who has not won a race since the German Grand Prix in July, needs to finish at least third to have a chance of winning the title in the Brazil finale.
If he wins, however, he would need Vettel to finish outside the top four at Interlagos.
"We go to Brazil with the possibility to fight for the championship," he said. "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."