Fernando Alonso and Ferrari rue lack of qualifying pace

Ferrari have admitted they are mystified by their inability to compete at the front so far this season.

Fernando Alonso qualified fifth for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix, a second slower than Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel who took pole position at Sepang.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali said: "The main objective is to discover why we are not bringing to the track what we see in the wind tunnel."

"One second between pole and us is too much. We must improve," Alonso added.

"Fifth place is the best we can do in qualifying - the first four cars are unbeatable for us. In the race it's much closer, so we did our job, knowing we must improve."

Ferrari appeared to be competitive with Red Bull in pre-season testing, but they have been nowhere near them in the two races so far this season.

McLaren, by contrast, had a nightmare pre-season, lacking pace and reliability, but major changes to their car have made it the second fastest behind Red Bull.

Domenicali said Ferrari were still trying to work out what had happened.

"We have had a strange weekend so far," he said. "We don't understand exactly the truth of everything, we need to work hard to make sure we gain back the performance we see (in development) but are not able to put on the track.

"The target is to make sure we gain the maximum points possible in the situation."

Ferrari's predicament was highlighted by the need of Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa to use up a valuable set of the faster soft tyres to ensure they got through the first part of qualifying, when the slowest seven cars are eliminated.

Alonso said: "We found we were not competitive enough in morning practice, so qualifying was again a conservative approach, using one new set of softs in Q1 so as not to be risky at all.

"But then you have only one set of softs left in Q3, so there is only one chance, one lap you have to risk - at the same time you cannot have any mistakes because there are no other sets of tyres. It is a difficult, stressful compromise."

Meanwhile, Ferrari have confirmed they are planning to develop their own version of Red Bull's 'flexible' front wing.

The legality of the wing, which gives the RB7 more downforce at high speeds, has been queried by some in F1, but it has been approved by motorsport's governing body the FIA.

Ferrari's technical director Aldo Costa said: "We are going deeper in the evaluation of front wings and we will do a 'flexible' front wing soon."

He also said that upgrades would be in place for next weekend's Chinese Grand Prix and more were in the pipeline.

"We are working on different areas. There will be something new in China, and something more significant in Turkey and for the rest of the season.

"Will it be enough? I don't know the answer to that now. Clearly, we have to push harder than the others because we have to make up the ground we have lost.

"How do we get out of this situation? If it was easy, we would have done it already, but we are not yet clear as to where the problem lies.

"We are working on it, but it's a case of a complete evaluation we are currently undertaking, not just at the track but also in the factory.

"We have to change our approach in order to succeed."