LONDON, England, June 3- After a slow and disappointing start to the 2011 season, Ferrari are hoping they can use their improved showing in Monaco last weekend to spark a mid-season resurgence and a revived challenge for the world championship.
Challenged by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to bring home the Formula One drivers’ and constructors’ titles before the season began, the team landed their fist podium finish last Sunday.
Two-times champion Fernando Alonso finished a strong second in Monaco where Brazilian Felipe Massa came home pointless, but convinced he could have finished fourth had it not been for a controversial clash with Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.
"There was at least one positive aspect to the weekend and that is the fact our car was much more competitive than we had seen it at the previous race," said Massa.
"Finally, we could fight all the way to the end — even if circumstances meant that only applied to one of us. Our pace was very good and I hope that will also be the case in Canada and Valencia this month.
"We should have some new technical updates at those races, which along with the softer tyres, should be a help, on paper at least — and then we will see what the actual situation is, starting on Friday in Montreal."
Massa’s optimism is short-term and hardly total, but like Alonso he has made clear that the scarlet scuderia will not be giving up on their title hopes despite the huge advantage carved out in the early races by defending champion German Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull team.
Vettel leads the drivers’ title race with 143 points ahead of Hamilton on 85, and Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull on 79. Alonso sits fifth with 69 points and Massa eighth on 24. In the teams’ contest, Red Bull have amassed 222 points to McLaren’s 161 and Ferrari’s 93.
Alonso, like Massa, is determined to lift their team for a fight.
"Already, straight after Monte Carlo, I’ve been talking to the engineers about the new parts we will have in Montreal, but above all, of the steps forward we must take for Silverstone.
"For me, that is when we will be back at a track which requires a lot of aerodynamic down-force and that’s important. That’s where we will really see how our season is going to pan out.
"Up until then, we want to — and we must — believe in ourselves."
Alonso knows his world title hopes are hanging by little more than a thread after Vettel’s runaway start to the year, but he refused to abandon his challenge.
"Immediately after the race, I said the fight for the title was getting ever more difficult, not to say impossible.
"Of course, if Vettel ends up winning a race in which we felt there was a chance of victory, then you get a feeling of disappointment, but that does not mean we will not continue working hard at the track and back home on developing the car.
"Clearly the gap in the championship is widening all the time. We can do the maths, but neither myself, nor the team, are used to throwing in the towel."
Next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix is likely to be another closely-contested and unpredictable affair thanks to the new fast-wearing Pirelli tyres and the unique nature of the circuit.
It is also, very often, a race of high attrition and many accidents, factors that could persuade Ferrari to take a relatively cautious approach when it comes to making sure they collect some points.