Double world champion Fernando Alonso claims that the opening two free practice sessions of the new campaign ahead of this weekend's curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne offered little-to-no real indication of the true pecking order in F1 2011, as Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa admitted he was surprised at not being quicker.
Having already proven the new 150° Italia to be the most reliable car during pre-season testing, Alonso and Massa went and reinforced that by tallying 102 laps between them in FP1 and FP2 Down Under – 54 for the Brazilian, 48 for the Spaniard. The pair also showed solidarity with the Japanese people in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami there earlier this month, with both of the scarlet cars sporting a phrase in Japanese as well as the country's national flag.
As to solid conclusions from the day's running, however, Alonso cautioned that few could genuinely be drawn, with cool conditions and the occasional light rain shower – allied to the 'green' nature of the Albert Park street circuit – rendering the situation confusing to say the least.
“Nothing new yet, and what else would you expect?” mused the 29-year-old, who lapped third-fastest in both FP1 and FP2. “These two free practice sessions have not actually revealed the real relative strengths of the teams; this morning Red Bull went well and in the afternoon it was McLaren's turn, with us and Mercedes always in the mix, while Williams and Renault also seem competitive.
“There are so many teams who could be in with a chance of going for the win, and therefore it's obvious that it will be necessary to have a good Saturday, without any mistakes, if you want to start from the front row.
“Today, we concentrated mainly on analysing the behaviour of the Pirelli tyres, which seems a bit different here to what we saw in testing, partly because the track surface has very different characteristics. As far as strategy is concerned, we will need to be very flexible during the race, because at the moment, we know too little about the tyres to be able to say with certainty on which lap it will be best to stop. From what we have seen today, maybe we can do ten laps on one set of tyres, or maybe 30!
“I am happy with the way the car is going – at the start, there was a bit of understeer and we are still a way off from having perfect grip at the front, but it went better than I was expecting. We wanted to show that Japan was in the thoughts of all of us at Ferrari, which is why we ran with a sticker dedicated to the people of a country that has brought a lot to F1 and where our sport has a great following.”
Massa, for his part, professed himself somewhat perplexed that he did not feature higher up the order than eleventh in the morning and seventh in the afternoon, winding up almost eight tenths of a second adrift of Alonso.
“We tested a lot of things in these two free practice sessions, splitting the work with my team-mate so as to explore different ways to go in terms of preparing for the rest of the weekend,” reported the Brazilian. “I expected to set a quicker time, especially as the softs were not at their best until the fourth lap. On the hards, on the longest runs, it did not achieve much, as there were also a few drops of rain to complicate the situation.
“From what we have seen, the soft tyre shows less degradation than we might have expected, but we have to work out if that will still be the case in the race. This track is definitely less hard on tyres than Barcelona, for example, where we did so much testing. This year it will be vital to study their behaviour carefully, circuit-by-circuit. The difference in outright performance between the two types of tyre is very marked. McLaren and Red Bull seem very strong, but there are other cars that can also be on the pace.”