September 6th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Ferrari have seldom needed a win as much as they do at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix, but after Friday practice they seem to be struggling to match the pace of Red Bull. Fernando Alonso finished the second practice session fifth fastest, just over eight tenths off the pace of Sebastian Vettel in the leading Red Bull. Felipe Massa was a further two tenths back in eighth place.
Fernando Alonso is 46 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers' Championship, with eight races (including this weekend's race) to go in the season. Alonso cannot afford to lose any more points to Vettel, and the best surest way to avoid that is to win. A victory at Ferrari's home race at Monza would set the stage for an Alonso and Ferrari fightback in the 2013 championship. But eight tenths of a second is a lot, and if today's results are a true reflection of the relative performance levels of the Red Bull and Ferrari, then Alonso has very little hope of victory on Sunday.
Alonso was relaxed in his assesssment of Friday practice, saying "The feeling is the same as any Friday, which means we’re neither very happy nor very disappointed with our performance level and we will have to wait and see how qualifying goes before getting a true picture."
He did, however, acknowledge that Red Bull seem to be on top, but also expressed confidence in the new parts his team has brought to Monza: "Red Bull seems very strong again here and we will have to do a lot of work to be as well prepared as possible for qualifying, in order to find those missing tenths. Although we have yet to analyse the data we have gathered today, some of the updates we brought here for this race seem to be working well, while others will require a bit more evaluation. We must get the most out of what we have available and try to have a good qualifying and a good race in front of our home crowd."
Alonso also mentioned the weather, which for Sunday is forecast to be wet: "Let’s hope the weather will also be on our side, as the forecast for Sunday is for storms and that’s why we must be ready to deal with whatever the conditions will be." That was also the case at the last race in Belgium, but the rain failed to arrive until after the race was over.
Alonso's practice sessions went quite smoothly on Friday. On the other side of the garage, however, Felipe Massa suffered an unexpected gearbox problem during FP2 which brought his Friday running to a premature end. He explained: "As I was coming out of the first chicane, I had a gearbox problem. As I tried to change from first to second, it went straight into third and at that point, I returned to the pits slowly."
Nobody at Ferrari seemed overly concerned about Massa's gearbox problem. It is quite likely that he was not using his race gearbox, which will be fitted tomorrow when Ferrari install the engine he will use for Sunday's race. As Monza is such a high-speed venue, most of the drivers are likely to use new engines for qualifying and the race, which they will install this evening or tomorrow morning.