Felipe Massa was in sombre mood at the end of the opening day's practice for this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, after winding up just 19th-quickest around a circuit at which he has triumphed for the past two years in succession – with the only driver slower than him being his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Following its torrid start to the season – its worst in almost three decades, with still no points on the board from the first three grands prix in Australia, Malaysia and China – Ferrari had hoped to take a small step forwards in the desert kingdom, having been one of just three teams to have tested there in the build-up to the campaign, albeit in somewhat different conditions.
Though Massa and Raikkonen lapped respectively eighth and tenth-quickest in the morning running, both complained of set-up and handling woes on the F60 – and they would slip all the way down the order to 19th and 20th positions at the close of play, separated by just over a tenth of a second. Even more worryingly still, the former suggested that without KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), he would have been even slower still.
“This was definitely not a good day,” summarised the Brazilian, 2008 Formula 1 World Championship runner-up and the only one of the Scuderia's
pairing to use the controversial KERS device, which the team dropped for Shanghai last weekend over reliability fears. “We worked a lot towards the race, but we have to try and improve the handling of the car to move up the order for tomorrow and Sunday.
“The harder tyre is very difficult to use, while the soft one seems to be the best, not just in terms of outright performance but also over a distance. The KERS helps; without it, I would have certainly been slower. I made a mistake at the final turn on my last set of soft tyres, which cost me at least three tenths. We must be patient at the moment and try to do the best possible in these conditions.”
“Even if we don't know what fuel loads the other teams had, it's clear that we are not as quick as we would like,” corroborated Raikkonen, “but we have to try and make the best of this situation. Anyway, we knew that the picture for this race would be no different to what we've seen in previous ones.
“Today we opted to run in two different configurations and did a lot of work on finding the best set-up for the car. We collected a lot of data which we will now analyse, to be as well-prepared as possible for the race. We can expect a difficult weekend, but we were never in any doubt about that.”
Indeed, should Ferrari fail to score again on Sunday in Sakhir, it will mark the Maranello-based outfit's worst start to a season in history – a scenario that would have been inconceivable when it sewed up the constructors' laurels for a 16th time at the end of last year. Under-pressure team principal Stefano Domenicali sought to stress the importance of everybody keeping 'a cool head' in such trying circumstances.
“Our car is unchanged from the way it was in Shanghai,” the Italian confessed, “and therefore we couldn't expect a different picture. Our aim is to bring home some points – we have to be realistic, and at the moment we cannot aspire to more than that. We have to tackle this difficult phase with a cool head, working on all fronts to try and get back to being competitive as soon as possible.”
“Today we had a very full work programme,” added chief race engineer Chris Dyer, “based mainly on race preparation and on a comparison between the two cars that ran in different configurations – Felipe's was fitted with KERS, while Kimi's was not. We acquired a load of data, which we will now evaluate very carefully before taking any definite decisions regarding the rest of the weekend.
“Today's conditions were very difficult, with high temperatures. We struggled a lot with the harder tyres, while the softer ones worked better. We had no reliability problems, which is the most positive aspect of the day. As for performance, we have a lot of work to do to try and improve it, while well aware of our current potential.”