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Day of truth nears for F1 teams
Alan Baldwin | February 17, 2005 18:58 IST
The day of truth is fast approaching for Formula One teams, with the Australian season-opener little more than two weeks away.
The last few Spanish test sessions are being played out before the talking stops and the real action starts in Melbourne.
So far, in what amounts to a phoney war, the signs are that Renault and former champions McLaren have raised their game considerably while question marks hang over Honda-powered BAR and Williams.
According to Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, joining the top team he has always longed to be part of with his move from Sauber to Renault, last year's third placed team can be challengers straight out of the box.
"The podium? we're going to Melbourne hoping to win," the Roman told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper on Thursday after another strong day of testing in Barcelona. "And there are signs, very comforting signs, in that respect."
"I am really happy with this car.
"The whole package is excellent; the engine, which is more powerful, the aerodynamics and the tyres."
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, also testing for Ferrari in Barcelona, agreed that the champions looked like having a fight on their hands.
Ferrari ran away with the 2004 championship with 15 wins in 18 races, Michael Schumacher winning 13 of them. In Australia last year, they simply blew away their rivals.
That is not looking so likely now, with Ferrari starting with a revamped version of their old car pending introduction of the new one in May.
"We no longer have the advantage that we could enjoy a year ago," said Barrichello. "At the moment I think Renault and McLaren are slightly ahead.
"But we're not going to panic.
"We always knew that we could have a hard time in the early races but you still have to bear in mind that in Australia and Malaysia we will be competing in very different weather conditions."
McLaren, despite Kimi Raikkonen's big crash this week, have also been setting the pace.
For those who yearn for Ferrari to be beaten after winning the constructors' championship for the last six years in a row, Williams and BAR have been sending out worrying signals.
Last year BAR sounded more confident than anyone, and their confidence was amply justified with Briton Jenson Button taking 10 podiums as the team roared to second place in the championship.
This time, they have sounded more defensive.
"It's true we had a couple of bad tests but I think we are back on track now," Autosport magazine quoted Button as saying this week.
"It's been several little things really. A lot of it was just finding the balance of the car and we had some reliability problems too.
"We did not have time to do set-up work. But now we've finally found the direction."
Williams unveiled their new challenger in Valencia last month with a determination not to make the same mistakes as last year, when they were disqualified in Canada and made a slow start to the season with the radical 'tusked' FW26.
Already that same evening reporters were whispering that the car had problems.
The BMW-powered team have not stunned anyone with their testing times so far, but such times can be misleading -- particularly when teams are probing reliability and tyres.
Sauber and big-budget Toyota have also been under scrutiny after teething problems.
More was expected of Swiss-based Sauber, with a powerful combination of Ferrari engines and Michelin tyres as well as a new wind tunnel now on stream.
But while Brazilian Felipe Massa has reeled off some quick times, Canadian former champion Jacques Villeneuve has apparently struggled to get to grips with the car.
"We are still slow," he said earlier this month after lapping more than a second off Massa's pace. "But it is better because we were very slow last week. Now we are just slow."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage