SHANGHAI (AFP) - Ferrari's new team principal Marco Mattiacci said on Friday that the team had not given up on this year's world championship, two days ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
He was addressing reporters for the first time upon arriving at the Shanghai circuit after taking over from Stefano Domenicali, who quit on Monday.
He strolled into the Ferrari garage on Friday morning to see the team's Fernando Alonso set the second-fastest time of the day's two practice sessions before the grand prix.
It was a welcome boost for Mattiacci, who has been charged with improving Ferrari's fortunes after a stuttering start to the 2014 season.
Two weeks ago, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished in only ninth and 10th places respectively in Bahrain, as they struggled to match the pace of the leading teams.
But Mattiacci immediately put to rest pit-lane rumours that Ferrari had already written off the 2014 title and were focusing on development for next year.
"We do not give up," insisted the former president and CEO of Ferrari North America.
"The world title must remain the goal. The aim must be to bridge the gap to Mercedes as soon as possible. It is going to be a very difficult task."
Mattiacci confessed he thought it was a joke when Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo phoned to inform him in New York that he wanted to promote from within the company to replace Domenicali.
"I told him April Fool's Day was about 15 days earlier," he confided, before realising "in about two or three minutes" that di Montezemolo was deadly serious.
"I had a plane ticket to Milan three hours later," he said.
Little-known in motor-racing circles before Monday's shock announcement of his takeover, Mattiacci revealed he had been with Ferrari for 14 years and was a motor-racing enthusiast who loved to race his own cars.
"But of course, that is not Formula One," he said.
It is not, and despite his lack of experience in the sport's premier formula, Mattiacci added that he was ready to show he could do a great job.
"I need to prove that I am of the level of Ferrari, first, and the level of Formula One. So it's here in front of you - an extremely motivated person."