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Ross Brawn says top Formula 1 teams are closely matched

Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes at the final Formula pre-season test
Mercedes believe they are a little behind the pace-setting Ferraris

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at the Circuit de Catalunya

The top four teams are all closely matched on the eve of the new season, Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn says.

Speaking on the final day of pre-season testing on Sunday, Brawn said Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull had all closed in on Ferrari in the last month.

"You saw in the beginning of testing that Ferrari were quite dominant but based on this test the teams are all pretty close," Brawn said.

The Englishman, 55, predicted "a super-hard battle" for the championship.

But Brawn, whose team won the drivers' and constructors' world championships last season in their former guise as Brawn, said he believed his team were still lagging behind their rivals.

Ross Brawn
I don't think Michael [Schumacher] will be the issue; we've got to get the car a little bit better

Ross Brawn
Mercedes team boss

"We're just a little bit off where we want to be but we're close enough to be within reach," he added.

"We're getting some mileage done now and this morning you saw us have a go on lower fuel levels. We're not a long way off, we're just a few tenths off where we want to be.

"We have a new package for Bahrain and I hope that makes the difference.

"The balance is getting better, there's set-up and obviously efficiency counts. So the upgrade should bring predominantly an efficiency improvement and therefore a performance improvement."

Brawn did say, though, that he believed the Mercedes was "there or thereabouts" in race trim, adding: "but of course in testing you don't really know what anyone else is doing.

"We are close enough to have a go at [winning races] but obviously we're not enjoying the same situation as we were last year."

Brawn shocked F1 by turning up at the final pre-season test in 2009 with a car that was nearly a second faster than anything else after a battle to survive following the withdrawal of former owner Honda.

Jenson Button, who has moved to McLaren for 2010, laid the foundations for his world title by winning six of the first seven races, but Brawn were then faced with a rearguard battle for the rest of the season.

"There are probably only two or three times in my career that I started a season with the same performance advantage as I had last year," Brawn said.

We never expect to come to the first race and come to the front but we expect to work for a competitive car and we have done

Felipe Massa
Ferrari driver

"I just think it will be a super-hard battle this year, bit by bit, whereas last year we had a huge advantage and it was a question of hanging on to it as long as we could."

Brawn said he was not yet able to say how his two drivers compared on performance.

Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher is returning to F1 with Mercedes this year after a three-year retirement, and is joined by German Nico Rosberg, who is yet to win a race but is highly rated by the car manufacturer's hierarchy.

Schumacher's return reforms the partnership with Brawn that brought him all seven of his world titles, the first two with Benetton and the rest with Ferrari.

"Michael has been very intense in terms of his approach," Brawn said.

"He's pretty close to what I remember. He stopped because he was tired of F1 but that's gone now. He's very passionate about racing again and is working hard with Nico to improve the car.

"He's got to start getting back into the groove but I don't think Michael will be the issue - we've got to get the car a little bit better.

"Until we get Michael and Nico on track at the same time it's impossible to judge between the two of them.

Felipe Massa's Ferrari at the final Formula pre-season test
Ferrari are believed to be the team to beat heading into the season

"They both look very good. You don't want to see either driver trailing behind and judging from the tests on different days they are close.

"I don't think they know where they are because conditions and tracks make comparisons different but I think both drivers are looking competitive."

Schumacher, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa all did race and qualifying simulations on the final day of testing and the Englishman set the fastest time.

Mark Webber's Red Bull was just 0.024 seconds behind Hamilton's fastest lap of one minute 20.472secs, which is the fastest of the four days at Barcelona.

Schumacher was sixth fastest - but only 0.273secs off Hamilton's pace.

Massa said: "It looks like it will be a tough and competitive championship, as I expected, but I'm satisfied with all the tests, not just Barcelona - we did our programme and what we wanted to do.

606: DEBATE
Veris

"We never really expect to have an advantage. We never expect to come to the first race and come to the front. But we expect to work for a competitive car and we have done.

"We're in the middle of the competitive teams. We are there fighting.

"The important thing is that we have reliability and the car is consistent.

"But we are not here to be champions of the pre-season but to fight for the world championship."

Schumacher said: "The four testing days here in Barcelona have helped us to make significant progress with the MGP W01 and I am feeling quite confident for the start of the season.

Adrian Sutil in the Force India
Force India's Sutil set fourth fastest time on the final day of testing

"It is always difficult to read too much into testing but, knowing our programme, it is fair to say that the times did not always reflect the true picture.

"We have worked through many set-up and development evaluations this week and gained valuable information to study before Bahrain.

"We are heading into the first race with a good feeling and we know that we will have our upgrades there.

"But most of all we know that our prospects for even the first races are looking very reasonable now."


Fastest laps from final day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya:

1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes one minute 20.472 seconds
2. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:20.496 (+0.024secs)
3. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1:20.539 (+0.067)
4. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:20.611 (+0.139)
5. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:20.667 (+0.195)
6. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes 1:20.745 (+0.273)
7. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Williams-Cosworth 1:20.870 (+0.398)
8. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari 1:20.911 (+0.439)
9. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:22.135 (+1.663)
10. Robert Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:23.175s (+2.703)
11. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Cosworth 1:25.251s (+4.779)
12. Lucas di Grassi (Brz) Virgin-Cosworth 1:26.160s (+5.688)



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see also
Sunday testing as it happened
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari team to beat - Schumacher
27 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Button backs McLaren to improve
27 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso optimistic over title chances
27 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher rules out early wins
26 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Williams novice upstages Alonso
26 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton happy with McLaren progress
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Red Bull in best shape - Webber
25 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Webber positive ahead of first race
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1


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