(CNN) -- It's been another difficult start to the season for Ferrari, but Formula One's most successful team is showing signs that it may yet be competitive this year.
While Lewis Hamilton continued Mercedes' dominant form by topping the second practice session in Shanghai on Friday, Fernando Alonso followed up his leading time from the morning run by being second fastest in the afternoon.
Watching was Ferrari's new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who has been tasked with restoring the "Prancing Horse" to winning ways.
On his first visit to the F1 paddock ahead of Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, the Italian emphasized his "humility" and the steady progress he hopes to make.
"I first need to prove I am at the level of Ferrari, and of Formula One, so you have in front of you an extremely motivated person," the 43-year-old told reporters.
Alonso's teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished the practice sessions with the seventh fastest lap. He had completed only one lap in the day's first practice before spending the rest of the 90 minutes in the pits with a mechanical problem, but emerged to complete 25 laps in the later session.
Hamilton, who has won the last two races in Malaysia and Bahrain, was just 0.014 seconds quicker than Alonso -- though the Englishman had problems with his car in the earlier session.
His teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the season-opener in Australia when Hamilton failed to finish, was 0.411 seconds off the leading pace.
Alonso, who is fourth in the overall standings despite no podium placings in three outings, said he was "happy" with the team's improved performance.
"At every race, all the teams bring something new and we must try and make an additional step forward if we want to be competitive," said the Spanish driver, who won last year's race in Shanghai.
There were also encouraging signs today for last year's constructors' champions Red Bull. Their two drivers took fourth and fifth fastest laps with Daniel Ricciardo narrowly beating out four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel with a time of one minute and 38.811 seconds.
Ferrari bosses have pinned their hopes on Mattiacci to rescue a season where the team's two star drivers have failed to reach the podium in the opening three races.
He confirmed he was flown to Italy last Friday by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to discuss the position, and was hidden behind dark sunglasses despite overcast conditions in Shanghai to hide his weariness after a long week of traveling.
Mattiacci has no previous experience in F1, and comes to the Scuderia from a previous position as president and CEO of Ferrari North America.
He claimed that doubts about his pedigree are "very motivating."
"I am an extremely humble person who will listen, and will fight 150% to be a facilitator, to utilize the best talent in Ferrari," Mattiaci said.
"We have a history, a pedigree, that is unique, and a pride that is impressive, and we will react, but to talk about restructuring is too early."
All hands on deck
Di Montezemolo has said will be taking a more hands-on role while Mattiacci becomes accustomed to his new position.
Former team principal Stefano Domenicali resigned on Monday, saying he took responsibility for the team's poor start to the season.
With two-time world champion Alonso and 2007 titleholder Raikkonen in the stable, Ferrari had high hopes of breaking Red Bull's four-year dominance of the sport. But the team parted with Domenicali after the drivers finished the Bahrain Grand Prix in ninth and 10th positions.
While the practice results offer hope that a change in fortunes could be close, Ferrari's engineering director Pat Fry urged caution.
"Even if we are making progress on all fronts, we are well aware that it's always hard to know where you stand on a Friday," he told reporters.
"Today's low temperatures affected tire performance and even if we can expect the track surface to be in better condition tomorrow, the rain expected for qualifying could turn the session into a real lottery."