Ferrari has conceded that although it always expected Red Bull Racing to come out-of-the-blocks in flying form in Melbourne this weekend, it did not anticipate Mark Webber and in particular dominant Australian Grand Prix pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel to be quite as blisteringly quick as they have been so far.
The general consensus on the basis of pre-season testing was that whilst Red Bull again had the fastest car at its disposal in the Adrian Newey-penned RB7, Ferrari's new 150° Italia was not a million miles behind in terms of out-and-out raw pace. Following today's qualifying session around the Albert Park Street Circuit, however – with double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso a gaping 1.4 seconds shy of Vettel's extraordinary benchmark, and team-mate Felipe Massa another six tenths in arrears further still – many have been forced to change their mind.
team principal Stefano Domenicali, though, has urged for calm amidst the unforeseen situation, predicting a stronger showing from the Prancing Horse come race day and pointing to the 150° Italia's trump card of reliability.
“We definitely cannot be happy with the way things went in this first qualifying session of the season, and there is no denying it,” acknowledged the level-headed Italian. “However, there is no point in immediately getting into a state about it. We have to work out why we were unable to get all the potential out of our car at the track, at least in terms of pure performance.
“From what we saw in winter testing and in yesterday's free practice, our race pace is not bad and we will try and make the most of that in tomorrow's race. This year, more than at any time in the recent past, strategy will hold the key, while reliability, as ever, remains the number one priority.”
“We were not on the pace at the end of the first qualifying of the season, and we have to take that on-board,” agreed Ferrari's new assistant technical director and head of racetrack engineering, Pat Fry. “We knew Red Bull was very quick, but they were even faster than expected and also McLaren were better than us. We had to already use the first set of soft tyres in Q1 in order to ensure we got through to the next stage, and we paid the price for that a bit in Q3, when we only had one new set of 'Options'.
“We have to study the data very carefully to understand what led to this situation. Having said that, we still have the race ahead of us and that's where the points are given out. Reliability remains the key factor – we have worked a lot on this front over the winter and we hope to reap the rewards of that now. Compared to last year, we will tackle the race with a different strategic approach and there could be some surprises.”