Leading F1 teams confirm status as title favorites
McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes GP confirmed their positions as front-runners for Formula One's championship as preseason testing wrapped on Sunday with Lewis Hamilton setting the fastest time.
Hamilton's best lap of 1 minute, 20.472 seconds allowed McLaren to edge Red Bull's Mark Webber by just over two-hundreths of a second, with the leading drivers separated by no more than three-tenths of a second.
Felipe Massa of Ferrari was third ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil, with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel fifth. Michael Schumacher of Mercedes was sixth with a best lap of 1:20.745.
Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes all topped the time sheets over the four-day session, but Ferrari remains the favorite inside the paddock going into the season-opener at Bahrain on March 14.
``We are there in the middle of many competitive teams. The important thing is that our car is reliable and we are there fighting,'' Massa said. ``I would not say (we are) the best, I would say we are competitive. We are not here to be the champions of the preseason, we are here to work on the car to have a good championship.''
Massa's time of 1:20.539 was only six-hundreths back of Hamilton, while Sutil was 0.139 seconds behind, Vettel 0.195 and Schumacher 0.273.
``They look very strong, no doubt, but it's still going to depend on what people bring to Bahrain,'' Schumacher said of McLaren's car.
On Friday, Schumacher said the German team was unlikely to be fighting for a win at the season opener, but on Sunday he said that things were ``slowly coming together.''
``Everyone had a go on low fuel loads and we're not a long way off, just a few tenths of where we want to be,'' Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said. ``There's a new package for Bahrain and I hope that is going to make the difference.''
Mercedes isn't going into the 19-race season with the clear performance advantage that the former Brawn GP team enjoyed last year, when it survived Honda's exit to surprise everyone by taking the driver's and constructor's titles.
``I think we're close enough to have a go but obviously we're not enjoying the situation of last year,'' Brawn said. ``The teams are all pretty close based on this test.''
Rubens Barrichello of Williams and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi finished within half a second of Hamilton as teams practiced low-fuel runs for the best indicator on pace.
Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi was ninth with a time of 1:23.175, while Robert Kubica of Renault was 10th - 2.703 seconds back of Hamilton. Kubica said it would be unlikely the French team would fight for a top-three finish to start the season.
Sutil set his time late in the session as the Indian team showed the pace that made it a surprise challenger at the end of last year.
The only cars well back of the leaders were newcomers Lotus and Virgin Racing, who both finished over four seconds back in 11th and 12th, respectively.