As if it was not already bad enough that Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could manage no better than fifth and seventh places on the starting grid for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang – the second round on the F1 2011 World Championship calendar – Ferrari is now anticipating finding itself 'on the defensive' come race day in Kuala Lumpur, too.
Having transpired to be unexpectedly off the pace in the Melbourne curtain-raiser a fortnight ago, the Prancing Horse arrived in Malaysia optimistic of a better showing – but the lap times in qualifying told a different story. Alonso wound up almost a full second adrift of Red Bull Racing's pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, with Massa a further four tenths in arrears again. The Sepang International Circuit might be an entirely different proposition to Albert Park, but performance-wise, seemingly, little has changed.
“We know that, at the moment, we are not capable of fighting for pole position – two teams are currently quicker than us,” conceded Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. “Our aim, therefore, was to be right behind them on the starting grid, and we managed to do that.
“Sure, we cannot be pleased with being a second off the pole time, but at the moment we have to be on the defensive, if I can use a footballing metaphor. The forecast is for changeable conditions tomorrow, which could mix things up. Furthermore, this is a very tough race both for the cars and the drivers. If we do everything well in terms of strategy, reliability and the work of the team and drivers, then we can aspire to securing a good result.”
“We are where we deserve to be at the moment, with two teams being more competitive than us,” echoed the Maranello-based outfit's assistant technical director and head of racetrack engineering, Pat Fry. “In qualifying, we worked well, making the most of our potential.
“We are a long way off the top – a second, in fact – and we are well aware that we have to improve a lot to be where the Scuderia
ought to be. We opted to use one set of soft tyres right from Q1, because with the performance difference between the two types of tyre being much bigger than last year, there is no point in taking any risks at this time. Clearly, this choice worked against us in Q3, when both drivers were only able to do one timed run with the last set available, but at the moment, this is the best strategy.
“There is a high chance of rain tomorrow and we are well aware that, here at Sepang, that can mean there is a risk of a very heavy storm. We will have to be very careful to ensure we make the right decision at the right time.”