Ferrari expressed 'relief' at having rediscovered the speed it had been so patently missing in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in practice for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang – but the reliability of the F60 remains a worrying question mark.
Neither Felipe Massa nor former Formula 1 World Champion team-mate Kimi Raikkonen ever got onto the outright pace Down Under, qualifying just seventh and ninth respectively and never running any higher than third in the race. Worse still, both faded away somewhat in the latter stages, with the Brazilian succumbing to suspension issues that ultimately led to his retirement 13 laps from the chequered flag, and Raikkonen having a disagreement with the Albert Park circuit wall ten laps later that ended in a similar result.
promised to bounce back from that disappointing start, however, and bounce back it did in practice in Malaysia, with Massa and Raikkonen covering 650 kilometres between them as they leapfrogged up the order from fifth and sixth in the morning running to top the timing screens at the end of the day – the Finn leading the way with the pair separated by barely a tenth of a second. Absolute reliability, though, remained frustratingly elusive.
“This morning we had a problem with the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems),” related the 2007 title-winner, who has twice stood atop the rostrum in Sepang, most recently last year. “That cost us a bit of time, but we managed to make up for most of it in the afternoon.
“We had felt that the situation here could be different to Melbourne, but it is still too early to say where we are up against the opposition. What we can be sure of is that when the car runs trouble-free, we are competitive. We hope we can do a good job in tomorrow's qualifying.”
“The situation seems different compared to Australia,” agreed Massa, “at least in terms of how the tyres operate. There is more grip and the softer tyres work well, even over a long distance. At the start of the long runs, I had a bit of understeer in the high-speed corners and oversteer in the slow ones, but towards the end the handling of the car improved continuously and I could set some great times.
“Clearly, looking at the timesheet today there's a slight feeling of relief, even if it has to be treated with caution. We are very motivated and the whole team will be trying its best.”
Due to its unique characteristics, Melbourne is rarely viewed as an accurate reflector of the true pecking order amongst the F1 drivers and teams, with the real scenario only becoming apparent as the first few rounds unravel. That being the case, Ferrari's upturn in form in Sepang can certainly be seen as encouraging.
“These three hours of free practice would seem to offer a different view of the situation to the one we saw in Australia, which indeed was predictable given the characteristics of the two circuits,” affirmed the Maranello-based concern's team principal Stefano Domenicali. “Obviously, it's much too early to say what is our level of performance when compared to all the other teams, but it is clear that it very finely-balanced, given that the first 15 in the second session were all covered by less than a second.