MONTMELO, Spain (AP) - Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is telling his local fans to keep their expectations low for this Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.
The two-time former Formula One champion downplayed his third-place finish three weeks ago in China and said progress is going slow for Ferrari as it tries to make up ground on Mercedes.
''If I say we will fight for the podium I will probably be lying to you, and I don't want to disappoint our fans,'' Alonso said on Thursday, a day before practice begins at the season's first event in Europe.
Alonso sits third in the standings with 41 points after Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton swept the first four races of the season. Rosberg leads the standings with 79 points with Hamilton four points behind.
Ferrari's last win came at Montmelo one year ago when Alonso got his second career victory on the circuit. Since then, it is on its longest streak without a victory in almost two decades after Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel dominated the end of last season before Mercedes took the lead this year.
Alonso has yet to crack the top three spots in qualifying so far in 2014, while Kimi Raikkonen has fared even worse in his return to the team that he won the world title with in 2007. The Finn hasn't finished in the top six spots in any race, and has also lacked speed in qualifying.
''We finished ninth and 10th in Bahrain and did podium in China because we had some things (come) together on that Sunday, but it is not that we are in a position to say we will fight for the podium here,'' Alonso said. ''Barcelona is a good point to check how competitive we are.''
Alonso said Ferrari's upgrade package is ''nothing out of the world'' and that the biggest advantage he will have is his knowledge of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with its single straightaway, which he hoped would reduce Mercedes' ability to leverage its better overall speed.
The race will be Ferrari's second under new team principal Marco Mattiacci after he replaced Stefano Domenicali. Mattiacci, a former president of Ferrari North America but with no experience in F1, arrived to Shanghai in time to watch Alonso steer to a third-place finish.
Alonso said Mattiacci was meeting with everyone on the team- from drivers to engineers and crew members- but needed time to learn the sport before he put his stamp on the Italian team.
''At the moment everything is more or less the same,'' Alonso said. ''Everything is calm, no big changes. In China, Marco arrived with little experience in motor racing and lots of experience on the management side, but he is listening and learning as much as he can. I don't think Marco wants to become an engineer, but he will need some time to settle down and make some decisions.
''It is a good thing for Ferrari to move forward and past some historical mistakes.''