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“We’ve got a lot of work to do”

Ferrari is already downplaying Alonso’s chances in 2012

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Fernando Alonso drives the new Ferrari in the final practice session at Montmeló.

With two weeks to go before the curtain is raised on the 2012 Formula 1 season, at Albert Park in Melbourne, Kimi Raikkonen was the man topping the time sheets on Sunday, during the last day of testing at the Montmeló circuit in Barcelona. The pre-season is now history, and all eyes will now be on the drivers to see whether the predictions of the teams and the pundits will prove to be true. The smart money so far is on Red Bull as the fastest team, with McLaren and Mercedes close behind. Ferrari has a lot of work left to do.

Former world champion Fernando Alonso came out with a telling comment on Saturday night at the Camp Nou stadium, during half time of the match between Barcelona and Sporting. “During the first races, we will suffer, because we’re not at 100 percent,” he said.

It was 2006 when Alonso sealed his second and, until now, last championship title, with Raikkonen taking the trophy in 2007, Lewis Hamilton in 2008, Jenson Button in 2009 and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and 2011. Raikkonen was driving for Ferrari when he won the championship, but the team has not had a victorious season since.

After a tumultuous year in 2011, which saw Ferrari plagued by design issues originating in the wind tunnel, the team decided to go back to the drawing board for this year, and created a new car from scratch, leaving aside the 150º Italia, which caused so many problems.

Over the 12 pre-season testing sessions, only on the final day was Alonso able to take his Ferrari out on the track without the data-transmitting antenna attached, a sign of just how far the team’s technical department is behind its competitors.

The scale of the challenge facing the Italian outfit was summed up on Sunday by Pat Fry, the technical director. Asked whether he was ruling out podium finishes during the early races, he said: “At the moment, I’d say yes. But I suppose I’m always slightly pessimistic.” He added: “I am disappointed by our performance level at the moment. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

At Red Bull, however, they seem to have no such problems, with a brand new car that promises to be as quick as its two championship-winning predecessors. When the lights go out at the Australian Grand Prix, the driver most likely to be worrying reigning champion Sebastian Vettel is his own teammate, Mark Webber.

Alonso, unfortunately, may be facing another year of struggling to keep up.