Ferrari's slow start to the Formula One season continued on Saturday when the Italian team's cars were again well off the pace in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Impressive pre-season testing in Spain flattered to deceive at the opening race in Melbourne a fortnight ago and another poor grand prix looms after Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could only qualify fifth and seventh, respectively.
Spanish double world champion Alonso was almost a second behind Red Bull's pole sitter Sebastian Vettel, leaving team principal Stefano Domenicali scratching his head and hoping to capitalise on any dose of good luck that may come their way.
"At the moment we are just not capable of fighting for pole position as two teams are clearly quicker than us," Domenicali told reporters, after watching Red Bull and McLaren lock up the front two rows of the starting grid.
"Our aim, therefore, was to be right behind them, and we have managed to do that," he added. "Sure we cannot be pleased with being a second off the pole time, but at the moment we have to be on the defensive."
"The forecast is for changeable conditions tomorrow, which could mix things up. Furthermore this is a very tough race for both cars and drivers. If we do everything well in terms of strategy, then we can aspire to secure a good result."
Alonso did well to finish fourth in Australia, but with little sign of improvement since then, the Spaniard can only hope to match that result in Malaysia. "We need to be aggressive in our development to make up for lost ground," he said. "At the same time, we have to stay calm and concentrated and in the meantime, bring home as many points as possible, exploiting every opportunity that comes our way."
"The championship is very long and last year we saw how the situation can change continuously from one race to the next."
Massa echoed Domenicali's view that the team would run a defensive strategy and expects to make three to four pit stops, but was prepared for more if it rained during the race. "We know we lack aerodynamic downforce," the Brazilian added. "We are working on it but only when we have made some progress will we be able to fight for the top places."