Alonso must make the most of being at home
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso needs to make the most of home advantage when Formula One's European season starts up in Barcelona on Sunday.
The Spaniard has ground to make up on Red Bull's triple champion Sebastian Vettel after four races in Asia and the Middle East.
"If I was to score our overall performance, I would only give it a six out of 10," Ferrari chief designer Nikolas Tombazis told the Ferrari website (www.ferrari.com) ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.
"We are not yet quite where we want to be," he added. "In the first four grands prix we were not really able to fight for pole position and that is one of our main objectives at the moment."
The days when Alonso could count on the emotional boost of two home grands prix are gone.
The Spaniard won in Valencia last year, but that race in the indebted port city is off the 2013 calendar, and he needs to get back on top of the podium at the Circuit de Catalunya.
This time a year ago, Alonso arrived in Barcelona 10 points adrift of world champion Vettel in a battle that ultimately went down to the wire in the German's favour.
Now, despite Ferrari having a much more competitive car and Alonso winning in China, the gap between them is already 30 points and all the top teams are bringing new developments to the track now that they are back inEurope.
Alonso suffered a retirement in Malaysia in March, after losing his front wing when he tagged Vettel at the start, and finished only eighth in Bahrain last month when his rear wing DRS system failed to function.
That problem has been solved and Ferrari have updates to the bodywork, floor and wings.
"With any new component, the difficulty lies not so much in its development but in deciding whether or not it is working on track as well as we had hoped," said Tombazis.
"By Friday evening in Barcelona, our objective is to have a clear view on what we will take forward to use in the race."
There are more questions than answers at this stage of the season and McLaren, regular title challengers who ended last year with the fastest car and started 2013 well off the pace, have plenty to deal with.
"I think returning to a circuit where we undertook two of the pre-season tests will give us a useful benchmark of our progress so far," said McLaren's 2009 champion Jenson Button in a preview of the race.
"I'm pragmatic about what we'll discover next weekend. I'm hopeful that it'll move us a step closer towards the destination."
Vettel has already won twice this season and his form in Bahrain looked ominous. Stopping that momentum is the big challenge.
Kimi Raikkonen, now second overall for Lotus and chasing his 22nd successive points finish this weekend, is 10 points behind and only too aware of what needs to be done.
"It's going to be hard to catch Sebastian if he keeps taking good results so we need to start taking more points from him," said the Finn.
"It's no secret that we want more speed from the car in qualifying. It's so tight up there at the front and we really need to be on the first two rows to fight for victories every time."
That is more than ever the case in Barcelona, where 18 of the last 22 winners have started on pole and only one driver - the now-retired Michael Schumacher - has ever won from anywhere other than the front row.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado won last year for Williams, the team's first grand prix success in nearly eight years, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice with the former world champions still chasing their first point of 2013.
"Following a good aero test last week at Idiada (in Spain) and a number of upgrades coming for this race, hopefully Barcelona can be the start of improved performance for us this year," said the team's Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas.