BARCELONA, May 10, 2012 (AFP / Tim Collings) - Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is aiming to lead a Ferrari fight-back to boost their title bid at his home Spanish Grand Prix this weekend.
After an early-season struggle to keep pace with the leading teams during the opening four races, the 30-year-old Spaniard has admitted Sunday's opening round of the 'European' season could be critical to the season ahead.
Ferrari have worked on a revamp of their car and Alonso said an improvement is needed for him to stay in the hunt for the championship.
"We will be counting on making a step forward, but we won't know until Saturday if we have -- and if so, how big a step it is," he told the Ferrari website.
"We have updates on the F2012 (car), some of which we tested in Mugello last week and others which we will try out on Friday in free practice.
"Clearly, having limited the damage in the first four races this year, we must turn things around."
Alonso, who remains only 10 points behind championship-leading German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull -- who has won the last two world titles -- says he is not feeling the pressure.
"If we're not on pole in Barcelona then it's not the end of the world...The important thing is to make progress, reducing the gap as much as possible, first this weekend, then again in Monaco and after that, in Montreal,
Valencia, Silverstone," he added.
"The season is very long, with 16 races to go, the same number that constituted the entire calendar back in 2003."
However, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has called for a major improvement as a springboard towards a sustained title challenge.
Di Montezemolo said: "What I want is a more competitive car in Spain, and then we can go for it this season. This is what I've asked because we have a nice development programme beyond Spain.
"I was disappointed with the way we started the season," he said. "I didn't expect it. From our technicians and data, I was given the impression that the situation was different.
"Having said that, four races have gone by with four different winners, and one of these races was won by us. We are there and now we need to take a step forward."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner meanwhile warned against using the Spanish race as a yardstick to predict the rest of the season.
"Usually Barcelona is a pretty good indicator of car performance -- if a car works well there, it tends to work well in most places," he said.
"Whether that still applies this year, who knows? I'm sure most teams are bringing upgrades of varying degree for that Barcelona race.
"It is the first European race so traditionally that's where teams will introduce new components to their cars and we're no different to that. It will be fascinating to see the evolution amongst the teams."
He added: "The competition is broader this year."
It all suggests this weekend's race could be wide open.
"It's exciting -- I think the races have been very good this year," said Horner. "Though, for us, we'd like a boring, dominant championship!"
With all the leading teams upgrading their cars and McLaren set to use a new high-nose design in the Spanish event for the first time, that prospect is unlikely.
McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh said: "There's a reasonable chance we will see it on Sunday, which will be the first time our drivers experience it.
"We got a lot of feedback at Mugello, so we have the data to set it up and can find the performance on track."