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â€¢ McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus ‘pushing very hard’
â€¢ Australian fourth fastest on first day of last testing event
Red Bull remain the pre-season favourites to achieve a hat-trick of wins in the Formula One world championship but Mark Webber has warned that the competition will be a lot tighter this year.
Last year Sebastian Vettel, Webber’s team-mate, was a runaway champion, winning 11 of the 19 races and wrapping up the season with four races to go. But at the end of the first day of the third and final testing session at the Circuit de Catalunya, the Australian said: “I think it is going to be really tight. The racing will be between several teams for sure and it is difficult to understand who is doing what at the moment, because we have such a big variation in fuel and tyre conditions and all sorts of stuff.
“There are some phenomenal teams out there pushing very, very hard, like McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus as well. We are pretty happy so far, but that can change very quickly, as you know, in F1.”
Webber, who was a major disappointment last season after almost winning the title in 2010, is expected to make a stronger challenge in this year’s championship, which begins in his home country on 18 March. “We are all anxious to get to Melbourne eventually and see where all of our work is,” he said, “but I think the team have done a phenomenal job in terms of preparation and working as hard as we can â€“ and we just have to see if that is going to be enough.”
Webber was fourth fastest in testing on Thursday and on Friday it is Vettel’s turn to take the new Red Bull RB8 for a run. Testing sessions are F1′s famous phoney wars, with teams experimenting with different fuel loads and preparing for last-minute upgrades before the start of the season. Teams also prefer long, data-collecting runs to setting fast times. But things are getting a lot more serious.
“We have more boxes to tick, for sure,” the Australian said. “We have some more data to gather, more crucial information to gather, and that is important before we go racing because obviously at a race weekend it is harder to capture that data.”
But Webber, it seems, is expecting the old order to be maintained in the first grand prix. When asked whether Red Bull’s opponents had a better chance in Australia, he said: “I don’t know if there are going to be any surprises in Melbourne.”
At this stage McLaren are again expected to be Red Bull’s closest challengers. Britain’s Jenson Button was the fastest man on Thursday morning but was pipped for top place before the end of the day by Romain Grosjean in a Lotus.
Meanwhile Paul di Resta was seventh for Force India, a whole second behind Grosjean. But he sounded upbeat afterwards when he said: “We cleared all of our objectives today. It’s the first day of four, at the last test, so I suppose there is a lot of correlation on this day.
“We had some new bits on the car to see how they perform, and to get an idea ahead of what the main focus should be which is performance and set-up direction â€“ which we’ll head into tomorrow.
“I’m out of the car tomorrow, Nico [HÃ¼lkenberg] is taking the seat, but I’ll be back in the car for day three and hopefully there will be another step forward,” he added. “But I think we’re on an upward slope, so as long as that progression continues, from what we can see around about us, we should be relatively clear.”
On Friday the seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher will be putting the recently launched Mercedes through its paces. But his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, said after his run on Thursday: “The reliability is better than last year and it means we can focus more on performance. I’m not sure [what it means for Melbourne]. We have to wait and see, but it’s great to be part of all this progress.”