Ferrari is bracing itself for a slow start to the 2020 Formula One season after its poor performance in preseason testing prompted a rethink of the car's development that will not bear fruit before the third round in Hungary.
As a result, Ferrari will run the same specification of car that it used at the end of testing in February at this weekend's season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, giving rivals Mercedes and Red Bull, who both have upgrades ahead of the first race, a head start.
Ferrari was the third-fastest team in preseason testing and admitted that its car's performance was below expectations. In usual circumstances, an upgrade package for the opening races would be based on an evolution of the original car concept used at testing, but Ferrari's aerodynamic performance was so bad that it has scrapped its original updates to focus on more significant changes for Hungary.
"This weekend the car will run in the same configuration used toward the end of the Barcelona tests," team principal Mattia Binotto said. "This doesn't mean we have been twiddling our thumbs in the very limited time of just five-and-a-half weeks in which we were able to work on the cars because of the stringent procedures involved in working around the pandemic as well as the total shutdown of activities required by the FIA in agreement with the teams.
"The truth is that the outcome of the tests led us to take a significant change of direction in terms of development, especially on the aerodynamic front. First, we had to understand why we did not see the results we had expected on track and how much to recalibrate the whole programme as a result.
"It would have been counterproductive to continue in the direction we had planned, knowing that we would not have reached our goals. Therefore, we decided to come up with a new programme that looked at the whole car, knowing that not all of it would be ready for the first race. Our aim is to introduce the updates at the third race on 19 July at the Hungaroring.
"Apart from that, over and above the actual development of the car itself, these past few weeks we have worked a lot on analysing its behaviour, with simulation work and with the help of our drivers, and I think that will prove its worth in Austria."
Rivals Mercedes and Red Bull are bringing significant upgrades to the opening race, based on car development plans they had in place prior to the lockdown. The Mercedes upgrade is believed to be worth as much as 0.3-0.4s, and Red Bull has not only aerodynamic updates but also a new engine specification from Honda.
Meanwhile, Ferrari, which was already 0.6s off Mercedes' pace in testing, is mainly relying on work in the simulator to refine the setup of its car to suit the layout of the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
"We know that, at the moment, we don't have the fastest package," Binotto said. "We knew it before heading for Melbourne [for the planned first race], and that hasn't changed. Having said that, the Spielberg circuit has different characteristics to Montmelo, and the temperatures will be well above those of February.
"In Austria, we must try and make the most of every opportunity, and then in Hungary, with the new development step we are working on, we will be able to see where we are really compared to the others while having to take into account the developments our competitors themselves will have brought along.
"The truth is that trying to make predictions at the start of such an unusual season is even more pointless than usual. There will be a few pointers come the end of the three hours of Friday practice, but a more accurate idea will be available after Saturday's qualifying. Only then will we start to have a clearer picture of the hierarchy among the teams, but then there is always the uncertainty that comes with the opening round, in terms of reliability and tyre performance over a race distance.
"We must try and be perfect in everything we do, in preparing for every session and in how we carry out our tasks. The aim? To bring home as many points as possible, as is always the case in fact."