Felipe Massa took Ferrari's second consecutive sixth-place finish in the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, in so doing underlining the significant step forward that the Scuderia has made this weekend - but the reliability issues and operational failures that have blighted the team's early-season efforts remain.

Having qualified a strong fourth under the Catalan sun with a healthy fuel load on-board his scarlet F60, Massa was touted as the danger man when the lights went out to signal the start of the race by dint of his KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology providing him with an extra 80bhp over his immediate rivals off the line.

The Brazilian did indeed make a gain, but it was only of one position as he bravely forced his way past the Red Bull Racing of front row starter Sebastian Vettel down the straight, and from thereon in the 2008 world championship runner-up would go on to frustrate Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber's intentions for the entirety of the first two stints.

With not enough fuel having gone into his car at his second pit-stop, however, Massa found himself having to defend against the young German in the closing stages whilst at the same time keeping an eye on his consumption, with messages from the pit wall warning him that unless he backed off he may not even make the chequered flag.

Reluctantly letting Vettel go, the 28-year-old's drop-off in pace in the closing laps also permitted Fernando Alonso in the Renault to sweep by into fifth, and very nearly allowed Nick Heidfeld to follow suit for BMW-Sauber. Sixth spot in the final reckoning may have marked Massa's first points of the campaign, but given his pace - setting the third-fastest lap of the race behind the unbeatable Brawn duo - it fell somewhat short of what might have been...

"It's a real shame to have lost two places in the final stages," lamented the S?o Paulo native, "even if we've finally made it to the scoreboard. We knew we couldn't match the pace of the Brawns, but we had managed to get ahead of the Red Bulls and - but for the fuel problem - I could have certainly stayed ahead of Vettel and Alonso.

"The final part of the race was a pain. I was already struggling on the harder tyres and then I had to try and save fuel as much as possible, while at the same time staying ahead of Vettel. Then the team told me that if I wanted to make it to the finish, I would have to let Vettel by and slow down a lot; if I had made another pit-stop I would have finished out of the points. Today, the car's pace on the softer tyre was reasonably good, even if we're still lacking a few tenths, but at least we are back to fighting for the top places."

On the positive side, Massa did fare better than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the man who had belatedly got Ferrari off the mark this year four races into the season in Bahrain a fortnight ago. The Finnish former world champion enjoyed a tight battle with Heidfeld in the lower reaches of the top ten early on as he endeavoured to atone for the catastrophic qualifying misjudgement that had left him down in 16th place on the grid, but a sudden problem with the hydraulic control of the accelerator in his car on lap 18 prematurely ended his chances of making it back-to-back points finishes at the scene of his last grand prix victory twelve long months ago.

"I am very unhappy because I could have finished in the points," the 29-year-old rued. "Unfortunately, I had a hydraulic problem linked to the control of the accelerator which meant I had to retire. At the start I managed to make up a few places, but then I found myself behind Heidfeld's BMW.

"The car is better, but we must fix these reliability problems. Obviously, when you have to make up ground you can end up making avoidable errors, as has happened to us in this first part of the season, but that doesn't mean to say the team has lost its way. We are the same people who over the past two years have won three world titles out of the four available."

Indeed, following a torrid start to proceedings this year as defending constructors' world champions, Ferrari finally seem to be getting back on-track again - at least in terms of pace. There are still, however, acknowledged the Maranello-based outfit's team principal Stefano Domenicali, far too many mistakes creeping in - which the Italian insisted is 'unacceptable' for a team of such status and reputation.

"We can take some satisfaction from this weekend," he reflected, "but at the same time it has thrown up further concerns. On the one hand we saw that the effort expended in recent weeks has borne fruit in terms of improving the performance level of the car. Both in yesterday's qualifying and today, Felipe was competitive at the highest level, as was confirmed on the clock; it's not by luck that we got the third-fastest time in the race, which would have been far out of our reach in previous races this year.

"Once again, the downside comes from the reliability side. Again today, we had problems which forced Kimi to retire and cost Felipe two places in the final stages, having also robbed him of the chance of getting to the podium, which would have been well-deserved. This is unacceptable for a team like Ferrari - we must all react to get back to our usual standard, as indeed we have partially managed on the performance side. There is much to do on all fronts, and we will tackle it with our usual absolute determination."

"The most important thing this weekend is that the car performance is much improved compared to the previous races," concurred chief race engineer Chris Dyer. "Today we were capable of fighting with the best and we had a great chance of finishing on the podium. On the downside, we can only be disappointed about our reliability and the running of our on-track operation.

"After what happened in qualifying yesterday, Kimi had to retire because of a problem with the hydraulics used to control the accelerator. On Felipe's car, the front left wheel fairing broke and at both pit-stops we had a refuelling problem, the cause of which we have yet to find out. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. We are all very unhappy for what happened and lament the fact that so much work from the team to improve car performance was not adequately rewarded in the final result."