Although Ferrari by no means arrived in Melbourne full of confidence, qualifying on Saturday proved to be worse than even they had expected.
Double World Champion Fernando Alonso spun off into a gravel trap early in Q2 and will start Sunday's season-opening race grand prix from 12th on the grid.
His team-mate Felipe Massa, who struggled to make it into the second segment, fared even worse as he qualified P16.
"We are obviously not quick enough, not competitive to fight for the top places at the moment," Alonso said Saturday.
"It's maybe something we expected after winter testing. We had some idea and today we confirm we're not competitive."
The Spaniard said the team had no choice but to work overtime in a bid to improve the car.
"The target maybe was to start the championship with a competitive car able to win races," Alonso said. "This was the message all winter and the second part of last year.
"We didn't arrive at that target. We arrived in Australia without a winning car and we need to arrive with a winning car as soon as possible in the next couple of grands prix."
Team principal Stefano Domenicali said "it hurts" to have both drivers outside the top, yet pleaded for patience from Ferrari's demanding fan base, if not company management back in Italy.
"I understand that at the moment, our fans are disappointed, but I would urge them to be cautious before making any definitive judgement, as if everything was already over," Domenicali said.
"The season is going to be very long, just as tomorrow's race will be long and hard."
The immediate goal for Melbourne is merely to finish in the top ten.
"Points would be the first priority and the second priority is top-five," Alonso said.
The Spaniard gestured angrily at a race marshall as he emerged from his car after spinning into the gravel trap.
Back in the pits, his team believed the trackside officials could have pushed the car out of the trap had they acted more quickly.
"He had managed to keep the engine on waiting for the marshalls, who did nothing," Ferrari tweeted soon after the incident.
Alonso acknowledged his own driving error, saying he appeared to have hit the grass at the side of the track before losing control.
"I touched the grass. I didn't realize when I was driving, but when I looked at the TV, the left tires were on the grass," he said. "I spun the tires there and qualifying finished unfortunately in the gravel.
"I don't know what my position would have been without the incident, maybe it was possible to go into (number) three. Maybe not because the times were very close."
Still, Alonso was philosophical about his premature end to qualifying.
"If I go into (third position) I have no new tires for tomorrow, so maybe at the end of the day it's a good compromise to be 12th with new tires."
Massa said the team, if anything, had gone backwards since a preseason testing program that was bad enough to have the team publicly admitting its uncompetitiveness heading into the new campaign.
"I don't know why, but the car seemed to be worse than in winter testing, maybe down to the characteristics of this circuit," Massa said.
"Clearly we are behind, maybe more than we had expected and there are other teams that have improved a lot compared to last year."
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