Ferrari, under pressure from president Luca di Montezemolo after failing to deliver a podium finish in any of the season-opening events in Australia, Malaysia or China, face a major challenge as they introduce a package of changes for this Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix.
The changes were forced upon them by their unpromising run of results despite two-times world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso’s clear statement of faith in the team ahead of the Turkish race.
“We had to do something and our car had a lot of performance to recover,” said chief designer Nikolas Tombazis, who has overseen the creation of new front and rear wings, as well as a modified brake duct.
“We have improved but there is still a way to go.”
As Ferrari test their progress, leaders and defending champions Red Bull and German Sebastian Vettel will seek to bounce back to winning ways after being defeated in Shanghai three weeks ago by a superb drive from Briton Lewis Hamilton for McLaren.
McLaren, buoyed by Hamilton’s success, will also bid for more glory on the track where they delivered a one-two finish last year and, with more new parts on their cars, expect to be competitive again.
“Winning in China was a fantastic reward for all the hard effort that’s been undertaken both at the race track and the McLaren Technology Centre to turn MP4-26 into a race winner,” said team chief Martin Whitmarsh.
“We’re excited and encouraged by the pace and consistency that both drivers have shown in the opening three flyaway races, but the return to Europe brings fresh challenges.
“We’re under no illusions that we need to improve our qualifying and race pace if we are to remain a threat at the front.
“Additionally, many teams will be readying significant upgrade packages for the Turkish Grand Prix - and nobody can afford to sit still.
“For this race, we’ll be evaluating a number of small modifications - which include some aerodynamic refinements to the bodywork - during Friday practice. And then we will see what to do next.
“I think our pace of development is what can win us this championship so we go into Turkey determined to ensure our upgrades deliver practical gains and are able to confer a useful margin to both drivers.
“Our one-two finish in Turkey last year was one of our most exciting races - and the memory of that result will doubtless spur on the whole team next weekend.”
While McLaren travel in a confident frame of mind, Ferrari will arrive more in hope.
“Our programme now is to take improvements at every race,” said Tombazis.
“We are well aware these improvements will have to be courageous to close the gap and give us a chance.”
He said he believed two factors have played a part in Ferrari’s fortunes this year - wind tunnel calibration issues and the fact that the team was not aggressive enough with its design.
“Even if it’s not a pleasure to admit it, over the last years we have become more conservative, less aggressive, with development, and we’ve brought forward less courageous ideas.”
Vettel, beaten in China, hinted ahead of the Turkish race that he is aware this season will not be easy for him and his team.
“We have to start again, think that we must work from the basics again,” he said.
“Nothing is going to be easy.”
His Australian team-mate Mark Webber, who delivered a storming drive to rise from 18th on the grid to finish third in China, this week made clear he may be open to switching teams for next year if Red Bull do not offer him a contract extension.
“I have my flaws, but I’m determined,” said Webber.
“Last year I fought for the title, and I want to go for it again. When this season ends my contract with Red Bull will expire.
“If the team doesn’t want me anymore, I will have to respond to a good question: to hang up the helmet, or to change teams? Let’s see what happens.”