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APRIL 9, 2011

Analysis: Ferrari struggling for pace

By Tony Dodgins

At the Melbourne season-opener there was a question mark over Ferrari's true pace. Track temperatures were low, Ferraris are traditionally easy on their rubber and the depth of Felipe Massa's problems in generating tyre temperature, which are normally more pronounced than Fernando Alonso's, suggested that this could easily have been Ferrari's main problem.

The race was inconclusive, with Alonso being elbowed down the field on the opening lap but showing strong speed as he came through to an eventual fourth place. In Malaysia, however, Fernando said that there had been more to it than tyres and the team's performance thus far at Sepang has reflected that.

Alonso qualified quickest non Red Bull/McLaren in Malaysia but the gap to Sebastian Vettel's pole position time was a relative chasm - 0.93s.

Ferrari technical director Aldo Costa admitted in Malaysia that the team has performance issues dating back to the final pre-season Barcelona test.

"At the final two days of the last Barcelona test we introduced our first high specification car with several new aerodynamic components to test, some of which worked okay and some of which underperformed," he explained.

"At the first race we had a deficit and here in Malaysia, on Friday, we tried to understand what went wrong. But it's a long job and you can test very little on a Friday. We will probably continue in China and do some straightline tests when we get back. We are behind. Red Bull and McLaren have done a better job, they are putting the bar higher, so we have to react. In Maranello we have very good, talented people. They will be very upset."

Seeking solutions on a race weekend, Costa admitted, compromises race preparation: "We lost a lot of time in constant speed aerodynamic tests and we didn't work at all on tyres and setup. You pay the bill then. Overnight and on Saturday morning I think we arrived at a reasonable car in terms of balance for qualifying. In terms of the race pace and tyre wear, I think we made interesting progress, so let's see in the race, but I don't expect that we will go as fast as the first four."

On the thorny subject of Red Bull's 'flexible' front wing, a direction Ferrari pursued last year, Costa said that, like Ross Brawn, he had assumed that a more stringent 2011 FIA load test would close off that particular avenue of development. He now concedes that was wrong. "We are going deeper in the evaluation of front wings and we will do a 'flexible' front wing soon," he said.

As Brawn himself pointed out, however, "We see there is another car out there (the McLaren) that is not using that approach that is quite competitive as well, so it's not the only solution."

As things stand at the moment, Red Bull and McLaren appear to have stolen a march.