Despite Kimi Raikkonen winning the Australian Grand Prix for Lotus, it is Red Bull that continues to fill the sights of Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali as the teams head for Malaysia this weekend.
The world championship-winning squad locked out the front row in Melbourne, confirming that its testing results masked the true pace in the RB9, but fell away in the race as both Lotus and Ferrari used strategy to get their lead drivers ahead of polewinner Sebastian Vettel. Whilst Lotus has established itself as a potential rival for last year's top two teams, Domenicali remains convinced that Red Bull is still the one to beat.
“We have a car that is quite reliable, with a quite good pace during the race, but I have to recall our attention to the fact that, at the end of the day, our qualifying was not what we had expected,” the Italian noted in an interview with the official F1 website, “The gap that we have in absolute performance to Red Bull was important and a call that we have to work hard, even if it is really difficult to understand the reality of the gap that we had as the conditions were very strange.
“But we have seen that Red Bull is still very strong. Of the others around us, they were really where we expected them to be, so what is the conclusion to all this? That it again will be a very tight championship - and it is important that we are there.”
While Red Bull indeed appears the car to beat over the short runs dictated by qualifying, Domenicali agrees that this year's F138 is maybe a better prospect when it comes to the race, especially as Ferrari showed a degree of flexibility when it came to strategy in Melbourne, pitting Fernando Alonso ahead of expectation in order to give him the conditions he needed to make up places.
“It was decided on the spot - the strategy you make up, seeing how the race evolves,” the Italian explained, “We had lost a lot of time in the traffic, so we decided to get out of that little train and not be stuck doing nothing. In that scenario, we were not able to take any positions, we were losing time and, at the end of the day, the best strategy was the three pit-stops.
“Of course, you have to believe that, if you pit earlier, the next set of tyres will last throughout the longer stint. If you don't know that, you'd better not do it as the chances that you'll pay dearly in the end are pretty high. We did it as we believed that we could afford it, that the tyres would stay with us until the very end.
“For sure, it is something we need to be very prudent on. Any prediction is much too early. [In Malaysia], the conditions are very different and we have to see how our car behaves.”
Having achieved its aim for Australia in getting at least one car onto the podium, Domenicali says that consistency is the key at the start of the year.
“My plan for the weekend is simple,” he claimed, “Because we don't score points on Saturday, I prefer to score points on Sunday - in bigger numbers than Red Bull! To go again to the podium, that's what I want to see. It is so obvious [that], at every race, we need to be consistent and reliable - and score more points than our opponents. That is what would make me smile at the end of the season.”