Ferrari top brass have flown back to Italy in-between the Malaysian and Chinese Grands Prix this week in a bid to analyse just why the form of the F150° Italia out on the circuit 'does not match the numbers produced by the wind tunnel', after leaving Sepang – for the second race in succession – with 'a slightly bitter taste in the mouth'.
Following a distinctly below-par performance in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last month – yielding a distant fourth place for Fernando Alonso and seventh for team-mate Felipe Massa – the Scuderia
was confident that the more traditional layout of the Sepang International Circuit would offer a more realistic picture of its new baby's true competitiveness, but when it came to the crunch, it was, in truth, more of the same.
Alonso and Massa could qualify only fifth and seventh respectively in Kuala Lumpur, though the Spaniard did enjoy a more encouraging race day, challenging old foe and former team-mate Lewis Hamilton for the final rostrum position before misjudging an attempted overtaking move and clipping the McLaren-Mercedes' rear tyre, breaking his front wing. With the Brazilian similarly delayed by a wheel nut issue during his first pit-stop, the pair took the chequered flag respectively fifth (Massa) and sixth.
That means that two races into a campaign in which Ferrari had anticipated doing battle for glory right from the word 'go', Alonso and Massa sit just fifth and sixth in the points standings and the team only third, some way behind arch-rivals Red Bull Racing and McLaren, both of whom appear to have in the region of a second-a-lap in their pocket over the Prancing Horse.
In an effort to turn the tide and understand just what has gone so wrong since pre-season testing, rather than heading straight to Shanghai, team principal Stefano Domenicali, technical director Aldo Costa and assistant technical director and head of racetrack engineering Pat Fry have all flown back to base in Maranello this week.
'The number one priority is still, naturally enough, an investigation into the aerodynamics and on finding out why the car's performance on-track does not match the numbers produced by the wind tunnel,' revealed a team statement. 'It is a very tricky operation, with consequences for every area of the development process; better to follow it first-hand, to push it along a bit further. That way, some updates planned for later races might actually be available earlier, hopefully starting here in China'.
Those sentiments are echoed by Domenicali and Fry, both of whom are clearly feeling the pressure to deliver results following the strategic error that arguably cost Alonso the 2010 title, and the F150° Italia's poor initial performance that might end up costing the 29-year-old the 2011 crown, too.
“We cannot be pleased with the [Malaysian] result, because we had the possibility to finally leap up onto the podium,” opined the Italian, alluding to Ferrari's three-race run now without a rostrum finish. “A failure of the moveable rear wing on Fernando's car and a problem with the left-front at Felipe's first pit-stop cost us very dear. It's a shame, because in terms of race pace the F150º Italia seemed much more competitive when compared to its qualifying performance, as we had already seen in Melbourne.
“Once again, [Sebastian] Vettel was probably uncatchable, but we were capable of fighting with all the others. Felipe and Fernando both drove great races – it's up to us to give them a better car. We find ourselves in a situation where we need to be perfect to maximise our potential, given that we are lagging behind in terms of performance; we did not manage that, and we must do all in our power to avoid that situation repeating itself. At the same time, we have to seriously ramp up development to make up the lost ground compared to the best.”