Fernando Alonso narrowly missed out on the world championship to Sebastian Vettel last year, but the team's 2012 car was rarely on the pace of the other frontrunning teams.
Speaking at the launch of Ferrari's F138, team boss Stefano Domenicali said the Italian outfit had to be realistic with how much progress it could make over the winter.
"The main thing is to make available to Fernando and Felipe [Massa] a competitive car," he said.
"I don't think we can expect a car that is much faster than the others - this would be fantastic.
"We have to keep our feet on the ground and have a car that is equal to our competition."
Domenicali described some of the changes from the 2012 car as "extreme", and Alonso added that it would be impossible to judge the team's hopes for this year until the car hits the track in testing.
"The difference at the front is just tenths," said Alonso, "tenths you cannot see by looking at the car.
"Sometimes you don't know why a particular car holds sway. We need to get on track and really see how competitive it is."
Domenicali also pointed out that the decision to cover up the step in the car's nose with a new-for-2013 'vanity panel' was for performance reasons.
"We wanted to go in that direction because the whole project is to improve performance in that area," he said. "And it is more beautiful!"
by features editor Kevin Turner
It's clear from Ferrari's launch that the team is trying to keep a lid on expectations for 2013.
Although there was talk of the car being more radical – to push the rules as hard as the team feels some of its rivals have done in recent years – everyone was careful not to get too carried away.
That is almost certainly due to the problems experienced with the F2012 in testing at the start of last year. Both Felipe Massa and Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo talked of the awkward conversation they had when the Brazilian first drove the car.
"I called him to tell him the truth – things were not going well at that time," said Massa. "I hope it will be a different experience this year."
Then there's the issue of developing a car and engine for the new 2014 regulations as well as fighting a 2013 campaign, something Stefano Domenicali believes will be a difficult balancing act.
"A big team has to focus very soon on 2014," he said at the launch. "It is a big change and is very, very complex.
"It will be important to focus on our targets for 2013, but at a certain stage of the season we have to make sure we have the right people on the project for 2014."
Domenicali knows producing a car that is superior to everything else is unlikely, thanks to the rules stability and the pace of the Red Bulls and McLarens at the end of 2012.
What he is hoping for is that the F138 will put Alonso on an even footing with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, and that the team and the Spaniard – most people's top driver of 2012 – can do the rest.