LONDON Feb 26 (Reuters) - Ferrari are unlikely to have the fastest car when the Formula One season starts in Australia next month but they hope to be close enough for Fernando Alonso to make the difference, according to team principal Stefano Domenicali.
"The situation at the moment seems to be alright, alright with the programme that we have," the Italian told Reuters at a Motor Sport magazine Hall of Fame event in London late on Monday.
"The target is to be close together with the leading cars...I would be very surprised if it was the quickest (car) at the first race. But if we are all close together in a couple of tenths, then the season is really long and everything is possible."
Ferrari started last season with a car that was tricky to drive and some way off the pace but Alonso kept them in the hunt with some remarkable drives while the team pulled out all the stops to narrow the performance gap.
By mid-season, the Spaniard had a comfortable lead in the championship that was then eroded in the latter half by a resurgent Sebastian Vettel who reeled off a string of wins for Red Bull.
The end result was Vettel's third successive title but the German and Alonso were still fighting for it all the way to the final race in Brazil.
Domenicali said the situation was very different from February last year, when Brazilian Felipe Massa first tested the F2012 and rang Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to tell him the bad news.
"It's another world," said Domenicali. "It's a totally different situation but we cannot underestimate that everyone is doing a good job, and as far as we can see from the tests I don't see a lot of changes in respect of what we saw at the end (of last year)."
Eight drivers from four teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus - have been fastest over the eight days of testing so far although the Red Bull drivers have also sounded happy with their car's performance.
Domenicali said the biggest challenge all teams faced in the first few races would be the new-version Pirelli tyres, designed to degrade quicker and create more pitstops.
"We need to make sure that we are close to the best car and then the team and drivers have to make the difference," he added. "In Australia it is not the end of the championship, it's just the start. We need to be careful and stay cool."
The season starts in Melbourne on March 17. (Editing by Clare Fallon)