Despite equalling the Scuderia's best result of the season when he took third place in the German Grand Prix on Sunday, Felipe Massa was at pains to point out that he did not yet believe that Ferrari was ready to challenge for race wins on a regular basis.
Much has been made of the Italian giant's troubles - and those of 2008 title rival McLaren - in adapting to the 2009 regulations, and the Scuderia continues to find itself fighting for the minor points as Brawn and Red Bull dominate proceedings at the front of the field. Both Massa and Kimi Raikkonen - who took third in Monaco in May - found themselves out-qualified by Force India's Adrian Sutil in Germany, but the Brazilian again found his F60 performing better on raceday as temperatures climbed.
Having insisted on Saturday evening that 'I have to be honest, a podium is impossible', last season's championship runner-up was able to make immediate progress from eighth on the grid, rising briefly to fourth before being passed by Jenson Button and then running fifth for much of a long opening stint. As those ahead of him peeled off for fuel and tyres, however, Massa led for five laps, the strategy putting him in contention for the podium at the end of the 60 laps.
"I started eighth with a lot of fuel, maybe some degradation of the tyres, so I thought a podium would not be realistic," he explained, "We fought so hard during the whole race, and the start was also very important to manage to get the podium at the end, so it was possible.
"The car was good, the pace was reasonable. When I was on soft tyres at the beginning, I was not as quick as Sebastian [Vettel] and Rubens [Barrichello] and Mark [Webber], but that was with a lot of fuel in the car. The second stint was pretty good. I was following Sebastian, even catching him.
"Maybe qualifying is something that we still need to improve a bit, and also the strategy. Starting with a lot of fuel at some tracks is maybe something that pays quite a lot. At Silverstone, my pace was very good but the strategy helps a lot, to pass all the cars in front. Here, as well, we had a race where many people were struggling on the tyres at the beginning, so we passed some cars [when] we were heavy on fuel, so the strategy pays a lot. But it's difficult to say that we are much better in the race than in qualifying. I think, in the race, together with the strategy, we manage to do a good job."
Despite being pleased with his first podium since winning on home soil in Brazil in last season's finale, however, Massa warned against expecting to see Ferrari becoming a podium regular.
"A podium is always important, and third place is a good result for us, but we cannot say it's really our 'return'," he insisted, "We finished on the podium, we finished in third position starting from eighth, so it's definitely a great result, but victory is always first place. I think this is huge motivation, it's a huge result for us to keep pushing, to keep working and just show the people that we can do it.
"I think we are improving the car step-by-step, so I think it's good motivation for the people as we know, if we work, we can manage to have a good car, a competitive car. I push my team very hard because, as soon as possible, I want a car that gives us a chance to fight for victory and for the championship. It's what Ferrari is able to do and we have done for so many years, but nothing is coming for free, so we need to work and push very hard to steer things in the right direction, so that we can have a car that will bring us into [first] place not [third]. I think that's our aim and that's what we're working for."