Sure, the Spaniard eventually passed Hulkenberg in both Australia and Malaysia, but Ferrari—the most successful team in F1 history—is not in the sport to battle the likes of Force India (one podium finish in six-plus years).
Even more disheartening for the team from Maranello, Alonso has been the better of their two drivers so far. Kimi Raikkonen looked uncompetitive en route to a seventh-place finish in Melbourne. Then, a collision with Kevin Magnussen on Lap 2 of the Malaysian Grand Prix left him at the back of the field and he struggled to 12th place, behind the much-maligned Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
As Bleacher Report's Neil James pointed out following the first race of the year, Ferrari's race pace is significantly lagging, and it will be quite difficult to make up the gap in the development battle.
Ferrari's biggest problem is their engine. It certainly does not seem to have the same power as the Mercedes unit (see, for example, the Malaysian speed-trap data provided by the FIA).
Perhaps more worrying are reports, such as this one from F1 pundit James Allen, that the Ferrari power unit is less fuel efficient than its rivals. That was backed up by television graphics shown during the Malaysian race. Here is the last update provided, showing the top 10 drivers with two laps remaining in the race:
|Malaysian Grand Prix Fuel Consumption|
|Position||Driver||Engine||% of Fuel Used|
|Formula One Management, TV World Feed|
Only Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel used more fuel than Alonso, and the Ferrari was trailing both of them by a significant margin. Over the full race distance, Alonso's average lap time was 0.204 seconds slower than Vettel's and 0.333 seconds slower than Rosberg's.
Hulkenberg, who troubled Alonso for most of the race, used much less fuel than the Ferrari.
Ferrari chassis director Pat Fry acknowledged after the race, per the official F1 website, that, "The F14 T continues to make progress and has proved to have good reliability, but we know this is not enough. We know we are working in the right direction, but if we want to reduce the gap to the leaders, we need to make a major step forward."
Restrictions on in-season engine development, though, make it difficult for teams to find a big leap in performance—especially in Ferrari's case, if the engine is the biggest issue.
Still, Alonso sounded optimistic following the Malaysian race, saying, "It is not the perfect start to the championship but the team is doing a massive effort to catch up," according to Andrew Benson of the BBC.
"We will improve, that's for sure," Alonso continued. "We are analysing the areas we need to improve. They seem very clear to us."
If Ferrari can find the necessary improvements, they are still in a good position in the championship. Alonso is third in the drivers' standings, trailing Lewis Hamilton by one point and Rosberg by 19. The team is also third in the Constructors' Championship, behind Mercedes and McLaren.
The Ferrari F14 T has also been reliable so far this year. Were it not for Magnussen puncturing Raikkonen's tyre in Malaysia, Ferrari would likely have joined McLaren as the only teams with both drivers scoring points in each of the first two races.
Reliability alone may not be enough to end Ferrari's title drought, though—currently in its seventh season. The doomsday scenarios with only a handful of cars taking the chequered flag have not come to pass so far in 2014.
The Scuderia will have to find more speed somewhere. Otherwise, despite one of the largest budgets in the sport, the team may be left with nothing to celebrate yet again.
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