Ferrari is one step closer to a near-miraculous rejuvenation in 2015 after two solid sessions of Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix.
The Scuderia started modestly in the early session with 27 laps it total, none of which were closer than 1.5 seconds to the rampant Mercedes team, but the afternoon session showed far more promise.
New teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen finished third and fourth — or first in the race for best of the rest — and almost halved the gap. Vettel’s time of 1 minutes 28.412 seconds was just eight-tenths off the headline pace of Nico Rosberg.
After getting out of the car on the opening day of the championship proper, Vettel confirmed he could have no qualms about Ferrari’s performance at this early stage.
“Of course I think it was a good day,” he said. “I didn’t have any issues with the car or any problems with reliability.
“It seems that the hard work we did over the tests was positive.”
Though Ferrari’s impressive pre-season run seems to have segued seamlessly into the first race weekend, Vettel cautioned against any overly optimistic readings.
“We had a smooth day. In terms of performance, and for sure the higher up you are [on the timesheet] the better it is, but it’s Friday. I’ve been in Formula One quite a while, and I know that Friday isn’t that important.
“For what we did, we can be happy. The most important thing is that we didn’t have any problems.
Ferrari finished fourth in the constructors championship last year and 104 points behind Williams, which led many to assume 2015 would be a year of rebuilding under the stewardship of new president Sergio Marchionne and new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene.
But The overhaul on the factory floor during the off-season and late 2014, which included the departure of Luca Marmorini from his role as head of engine development, coupled with the 2015 car being the first penned by the highly regarded technical chief James Allison, has created an environment in which the team seems to be thriving.
“The whole package, as we saw in testing, has been a big improvement already,” agreed Kimi Räikkönen on Friday.
“The team has done a good job over the winter, though obviously we still have work to do.
“We have to start somewhere, and when we compare where we finished last year to now, it’s quite a good step.
With qualifying looming on Saturday afternoon, however, Ferrari is keen to play down its expectations — particularly with Mercedes expected to extend its advantage when it switches to qualifying mode.
“It would be nice to stay in front of as many people as we can,” said Vettel. “But I’m sure that Mercedes is out of reach.”
Qualifying for the 2015 Australian Grand Prix starts at 5PM AEDT.