Ferrari has no doubt that it will take only a small improvement in pace with next year's car to get itself back into championship contention, following its strong performance at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Italian squad halted development of its 2011 car several months ago, after failing to get on terms with Red Bull, and instead focused its efforts on what it promises to be a more aggressive concept for next year. But with Fernando Alonso having been able to fight both McLaren and Red Bull for victory at Suzuka last Sunday, team principal Stefano Domenicali thinks there is evidence that getting the most out of its tires is just as vital as overall downforce, which has lifted hopes that a small amount of progress will be enough to transform its form next season.
"I am convinced about it," Domenicali said. "If you look at the way things happened in Japan, there was not such a huge gap to overcome, I must say. So we need to be spot on in the preparation of the car without getting too anxious at being so far behind. That means we are maybe closer than what we were thinking and we need to, on the other side, make sure everything is under control in terms of development and in terms of the baseline of the car.
"One element that is crucial is to understand the tire performance, and [we need to] make sure we really use that as a performance factor because I think there is a lot to learn after this season on that."
Ferrari reverted to an older specification of design at the Japanese Grand Prix, after planned upgrades that had arrived at the car since that race had failed to deliver the steps forward the team had expected. That is what makes Domenicali even more positive that his team is not in such bad shape as it plots a fight back.
"I think that I was impressed by our performance because it was close to be first, we were second, and to be honest with you we were not expecting to be so competitive," he said. "It means that there must now be two elements under investigation so we can understand everything to be of benefit for next year. It is really the combination of the effect of the tires, which is new in all different track conditions and surfaces, plus the effect of the blowing exhaust, which is the main element on the aerodynamic side.
"The combination of these two has to be really understood in order to be ready for next year's car, because we haven't touched this car since Hungary. Unfortunately, as you know and as we already said, we brought new updates in Belgium and Italy that we were hoping to be an upgrade but it was a downgrade, unfortunately! So we went back. This is the car we had in Hungary and we were very close to the car that won.
"As far as we understood, both McLaren and Red Bull brought some new pieces, new parts in the last couple of races, so there is something that is not clear about how this is possible. In that respect, it is a good base and means we are not that far away."
Domenicali says that the Japanese GP performance, which featured Alonso closing in on winner Jenson Button during the closing stages of the race, means the team can target victories in the final four races of the campaign.
"This weekend shows that the most important element that comes out is that the equilibrium of being very strong and not so strong is on the edge. So this has to motivate everyone at home to make sure that we keep pushing, because in the last four races of the season we have to make sure that we maximize the points and we can achieve a win.
"That is within our possibilities. Plus, we are still fighting for second position with Fernando."