The start of the new grand prix season is barely two months away, but last year’s strugglers and eventual flops Ferrari have already written themselves off as no-hopers in the 2015 world championship chase.

A ruthless and wide sweeping clear-out of the top back room staff at the Maranello HQ was ordered by newly appointed principal Sergio Marchionne and he now warns the tifosi, the team’s massive and committed fan base, that the Italian race legends will again lag behind in the climb up the title ladder.

The Italian-Canadian was drafted in from the business section as an urgent replacement for the long-serving and well-respected, but latterly ineffectual Luca di Montezemolo and wasted little time in his condemnation of the failures who contributed to Ferrari’s dramatic fade out as an F1 force.

Without a trace of apology to the offloaded high-flying ranks, he said: “We have taken some sharp decisions on the make-up of the team. And we have removed the baggage of uncertainty which delayed the start of the 2015 project.

“It could be another difficult year,” he admits. “We have dropped back and we will start from behind — but we will keep our heads down and try to win.”

The concerned boss’s gloomy forecast goes on: “We have much work to do after the tumultuous pressure of last year and any results are only likely to happen in the final five or six races. This is our year of reconstruction.”

Even with sensational new signing and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel raring to go to prove his worth of a £20m-a-year (Dh111m-a-year) deal, Marchionne warns the team will be lucky if they manage to earn two victories in the entire 20-race season starting in Australia in mid-March. Even that number I fear is optimistic.

Last season was a wreck, an embarrassing write-off, and the first time Ferrari failed to scored a win since 1993. Their best placing was a second in Hungary in the talented hands of the now-departed double-champion Fernando Alonso, who has escaped to McLaren in a bid to rescue his reputation.

They slumped to a disastrous fourth in the crucial constructors’ championship, with the consequent loss of millions of dollars in prize money.

“We now have to give our team, who will do their absolute best, the courage and the resources to make Ferrari grow and be winners again,” promised Marchionne.

He welcomed Vettel from Red Bull and said: “He is not naive, he knows our level of performance, but this is the power of Ferrari. We attract people like him based on our potential.

“It is a big gamble for both of us, Ferrari and Sebastian. But we shall free his potential and ours.”

Whether they can achieve the same ambition with Finnish flop Kimi Raikkonen, another abject disappointment last season, is very much open to doubt and, I’m told by an insider, they have their pens poised over a contract to lure Williams sensation Valtteri Bottas to ride the Prancing Horse.

— The writer is a freelance journalist and motorsport expert