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F1 form guide

Felipe Massa pounds out the miles in his Ferrari at Jerez
Massa's Ferrari appeared to be the quickest car at this week's major F1 test

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Jerez

The formbook is still frantically being written by Formula One's contenders as they accelerate towards the start of the season in Australia later this month.

While Toro Rosso tested privately in Italy, the remaining eight teams kept their cards close to their chests during this week's multi-team test in Jerez.

BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica seemed to speak for everyone when he put on his best poker-face and said: "Where we are compared to our opponents, I don't know. As usual in winter testing, you are not showing 100% of what you have."

But despite the testing game of bluff and double bluff, there were some clues as to which teams are likely to be battling for the podium in Melbourne on 29 March.

Jerez provided Ferrari and McLaren with their first opportunity to go head-to-head since November's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.

Ferrari look to be the strongest at the moment, quite significantly ahead of McLaren - at least here, McLaren appear to be in some trouble

Pascal Vasselon
Toyota design boss

Their relative performances drew murmurs in the paddock that the Italian marque, who are defending the constructors' title in 2009, are some way ahead of their oldest rivals.

In drying conditions on Tuesday, Felipe Massa ploughed through a race distance at high speed for Ferrari, consistently running around one minute, 21 seconds per lap - a pace Renault's Fernando Alonso matched the following day.

But at the same time as Massa was out, world champion Lewis Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen ran short stints (around six laps) in his McLaren and was regularly clocking 1:22 and 1:23.

The Finn's best time - 1:20.535 - came on his penultimate lap at the end of the day when the track was at its most giving.

Toyota's senior general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon said: "For me, Ferrari are the main competitors.

"They are the ones we target because they look to be the strongest at the moment, quite significantly ahead of McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren at Jerez
Hamilton's McLaren team confused their rivals by running an old rear wing

"At least here McLaren seem to be in some trouble, but I'm sure they will recover and we should not underestimate them."

McLaren's decision to intermittently continue to run both Kovalainen and Hamilton's cars with a 2008 rear wing has raised eyebrows in Jerez.

The team say they want to gather good comparative data between the car's performance using the 2008 design and the taller, narrower model required by 2009's new regulations.

But in order to maximise the dwindling testing days, the majority of the other teams are already running under the basic constructs of the 2009 rules, which have reduced the cars' aerodynamics.

McLaren are, however, confident that they are well ahead of the game when it comes to another innovation of the new season, the optional Kers energy recovery system.

On our long runs, we have been similar to Ferrari

Willy Rampf
BMW Sauber technical boss

Kovalainen insisted he was "99% certain" McLaren would start the season with Kers, which gives drivers a burst of extra power for up to 6.7 seconds per lap.

Ferrari and BMW Sauber are also widely expected to open with Kers, but other teams, such as Williams and Toyota, have already ruled out using the device in Melbourne and Kovalainen believes that could give McLaren an advantage.

"Hopefully other people won't get it and we do," the Finn said.

"It will certainly be an advantage from the start to the first corner and if you are fighting in the race and you need to overtake."

As Kubica - a keen poker player - suggested, BMW Sauber are yet to show their hand.

The highly-rated Pole did not put together a serious long run of laps on Tuesday, when the cars were able to test the slick tyres that will return in 2009 in the dry, but was clocking around 1:21 and 1:22.

Fernando Alonso
Alonso's Renault is possibly the ugliest car of 2009 - but it looks quick

Nonetheless, the team, who finished third in 2008, are optimistic that they will once again be competitive.

"Our reliability is OK, our long runs in Bahrain (last month), where we were in a similar range to Ferrari, were fairly consistent" said the team's technical co-ordinator Willy Rampf.

"There will be some aerodynamic updates for Melbourne and I am quite confident we are on the right path."

The raft of regulation changes for 2009 has led to expectations that the clutch of mid-field teams will use the opportunity to start from scratch to close the gap on 2008's front-runners.

In Jerez, Alonso topped Wednesday's timesheets with 1:19.945.

The double world champion promised even more to come from the French team, who are looking to build on his wins in Singapore and Japan towards the end of last season.

Renault, in common with several other teams, plan major upgrades to their car in time for the first race.

When asked how closely the R29 in Jerez would resemble the car he will race in Melbourne, Alonso's response was quick and dismissive.

Toyota practise a pit stop with Timo Glock
Even Toyota have been showing some strong pace in Spain

"Nothing," he said. "Only the colours I think."

Toyota were also drawing admiring glances from their rivals in Jerez.

Timo Glock showed his prowess in the wet to set the fastest lap through Monday's deluge and did likewise on Tuesday, clocking 1:19.814.

Vasselon explained: "One of the major targets of the new regulations was to reduce downforce [by about 50%].

"We have just found what is needed this season - we have found downforce, so we are quite happy."

The sleek Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull has also been attracting paddock praise.

New recruit Sebastian Vettel showed it was not just a pretty chassis by setting the fastest lap of the week in 1:19.055 on Sunday.

606: DEBATE

One wise old head commented that the best designer in F1 should by definition produce the best car when handed 2009's blank sheet of paper.

But in the current climate of change, the learning curve is so steep that the cars on track in Jerez will develop and shift once more at next week's test in Barcelona and again in Australia.

True form will probably not show itself until Saturday's qualifying session at Albert Park - when the F1 teams and drivers will be as interested as everyone else to find out where they stand.



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see also
Brundle on Hamilton
04 Mar 09 |  Formula One
F1 ready for racing revolution
04 Mar 09 |  Formula One
Behind the scenes on the F1 trail
04 Mar 09 |  Formula One
The new face of F1
05 Mar 09 |  Formula One


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