Fernando Alonso concedes that whilst he was encouraged by Ferrari's podium-challenging pace in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang last weekend, right now, he does not have the car underneath him to be able to take the fight to runaway early-season F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel.
Alonso took the chequered flag a distant and uncompetitive fourth in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne last month, and post-qualifying in Kuala Lumpur, Ferrari looked to be in much the same situation again – but the F150º Italia's improved performance on race day enabled the Spaniard to hunt down a tyre-hobbled Lewis Hamilton for the final rostrum spot.
Unfortunately, the double world champion misjudged an attempted overtaking move on his former team-mate and bitter arch-rival with only ten laps to go, seeing him clip the right-rear tyre of the McLaren-Mercedes with his own front wing, necessitating an unplanned extra pit-stop for a new nosecone and seeing him slip down the order to sixth position in the final reckoning. It was, he reflects, both promising and frustrating all at the same time.
“Two days' relaxing were much-needed after what was a very tough weekend at Sepang,” the 29-year-old wrote in his blog on Ferrari's official website, “and now I'm ready for the second race in as many weekends. I was disappointed not to get to the podium in Malaysia, as it was within my reach and it would have been a great result. It would also have been useful in terms of being a nice morale-booster.
“Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we wanted and we paid a very heavy price for a failure on the system that runs the moveable rear wing – but I know that the engineers, with whom I've been in touch a lot over these past days, have discovered the problem and fixed it.
“If the system had worked, I could comfortably have got past Hamilton on the pit straight and I would not have found myself having to fight him wheel-to-wheel and taking risks. What happened is part of racing, and you have to accept it; I was quicker than him and so I had to try and pass, otherwise I would have been caught by those behind us.
“As we had already seen in Australia, once again in Malaysia, our race pace was much better than that in qualifying. At Sepang, both Felipe [Massa – team-mate] and I were running at a pace good enough to get to the podium and that was an important indication, even if we did not end up getting all we could have done.”
Having missed out on the podium by one position in Melbourne and coming unstuck whilst endeavouring to reach it at Sepang, Alonso is clearly eager to make it third-time-lucky in this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, a race in which he triumphed back in 2005, but in which he has failed to finish inside the top three since 2007. He is hopeful that some new aerodynamic tweaks may be the key to turning that tide.
“In Maranello, the engineers are working a lot to try and improve the performance of the F150º Italia,” the 26-time grand prix-winner revealed. “In Shanghai, we are due to try a new front wing and a few other aero updates – let's hope they bring us something, but we will have to evaluate them very carefully in Friday's practice.