Three races into the 2011 Formula 1 championship, and Ferrari star Fernando Alonso is in fifth place in the drivers' rankings, 42 points short of the leader, Sebastian Vettel. In between the two are the McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and Vettel's teammate Mark Webber. This is not how the season was supposed to begin for the double world champion.
This year's Ferrari is not meeting expectations, and neither is Alonso himself. In Melbourne he lost four positions at the start, and in Malaysia and at Sunday's Grand Prix in China he lost two.
The weakness of the Ferrari, and another strategic error by the team - it opted for two pit stops, when the winning formula was three - left him in no-man's land at Sunday's race, stuck behind Michael Schumacher's Mercedes for eight laps until he finally managed to get past.
"I had a terrible start because I got a lot of wheelspin, and [teammate Felipe] Massa passed me," Alonso said after the race. "When I got to the first corner I was nearly overtaken by a Force India. The problem was not the strategy - the car is slow. When you are slow, even if you do one, two or three stops, things don't change that much. I didn't miss out on a podium place because of the strategy. I was lucky to finish seventh."
Alonso was clear on what needs to happen next. "We have to improve the car, and get to the bottom of the problem, although I don't think that things are going to change that much," he said. "We have to accept that we are behind, work hard and be humble."
The president of Ferrari has also made his displeasure at the team's performance clear. "This cannot and must not be the team's level," Luca di Montezemolo wrote on Ferrari's website. "I expect our engineers to act with determination and know-how, unleashing the maximum of their capacity to improve the performance of the car in a short time. I want Ferrari to be at the level that both we and our fans demand it should be."
Fortunately for Ferrari, there are still 18 days to go until the next race, in Turkey, giving them some breathing room to try to catch their competitors.