Fernando Alonso has warned that Ferrari must "improve a lot" if they are to mount a serious bid for the 2012 Formula One world titles.
The Scuderia's pre-season testing form was unconvincing enough to prompt technical director Pat Fry to rule out the prospect of the new F2012 car delivering podium places for its drivers in the first few races of the season.
Ferrari's rivals have reacted with understandable caution to Fry's claim, but with the first grand prix of the year in Melbourne now just four days away, the Italian marque remain keen to dampen the expectations of their many supporters.
Writing on his personal blog on Ferrari's official website, Alonso said: "I know the fans always expect to hear me say that we can obtain such and such a result, but the truth is that we cannot say with certainty where we are. We must wait until Saturday evening at six, after qualifying.
"We definitely still need to improve a lot, working on our understanding of the F2012, adapting my driving style to a new car which, with the loss of aerodynamic downforce at the rear and the new Pirelli tyres, is a bit harder to drive."
Problems with the new car's exhaust layout are believed to be at least partly to blame for Ferrari's lack of testing pace, but the twice world champion is confident the team knows what improvements need to be made.
"We know in which direction we need to go in terms of car development and that's an important step," Alonso continued.
"Sure, we will have to grit our teeth for the first few races, but first of all, we have to see exactly where we are in terms of being competitive and then give our all to bring home as many points as possible in this early stage of the championship."
Alonso's team-mate, Felipe Massa, remains confident that podiums remain a possibility at the first four races of the year in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain, but the Spaniard is refusing to set any such targets.
"We have to stay cool and calm and take one step at a time," Alonso added.
"Once we know where we stand, then we can set ourselves more precise targets."