Twelve months ago, Ferrari was heading to the Australian Grand Prix fearing the worst after a tough pre-season testing programme and wondering what lay in store in the year ahead. This time around, things are a little different.
Although Fernando Alonso emerged from Melbourne with a fifth-place finish, and went on to take a surprise win next time out at Sepang, Ferrari's fears were well founded as its F2012 – and its planned development programme – were never a match for its rivals, allowing Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel to steal through to take the titles.
Knowing what Alonso brings to the table, however, the Scuderia is a lot more confident heading into the 2013 campaign, with its F138 showing a lot more promise than its predecessor and both the Spaniard and team-mate Felipe Massa exuding optimism after topping the times in testing. Despite that, however, chief designer Nicolas Tombazis is still resisting the temptation to make predictions before the season-opener.
“Compared to a year ago, the situation is very clear,” he told the official Ferrari website, “It's not hard to make a comparison because, back then, we were in a really difficult situation, so making a better start this year was pretty much a given.
“We know that, for various reasons, our development over the latter part of last season stalled and, because our rivals continued their development to a certain extent, the gap between us grew, especially after the summer break. A gap which we had closed down to three-tenths thus became around eight in Brazil.
“This year, we have a well-defined development plan and we are reasonably sure that the new components tested on track have produced positive results. The Melbourne package worked as we had hoped, with no particular unexpected problems, but it's still difficult to say where we are compared to our competitors, so it's better not to speculate. It's hardly surprising, but I think that apart from ourselves, the most competitive would appear to be Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes, even if how the hierarchy stands between us is still uncertain.
“We hope to be able to fight at the front, but no one can be excluded. There are 19 races in the championship with half of them coming after the summer and, as we saw last year, even if a team does not start the season being on the pace, it can fight back and win. Everyone goes through a cycle and stages and therefore it will be a case of constant development throughout the year.”
Tombazis reckons that there will be two key areas for teams to focus on in 2013: tyre wear and exhaust development.
“With the exhaust exits, we can reckon on updates during the season and, while the differences might not be visible, they could offer a significant margin for improvement,” he opined, “Of course, we won't be the only ones working on this area, the others will too. Bit by bit, as the regulations stay the same for longer, the room for invention decreases, but with the exhausts there is still much that can be done.
“Furthermore, as great improvements in simulation tools come along, this produces better correlation of data and of the methodology of the various configurations that are tested. This means that testing new parts and comparing developments over a race weekend will become more complicated, whereas, during testing, this can be done more calmly and extensively. We need to find a way to do this without compromising other tasks such as set-up work and analysing the behaviour of the tyres.”