SEBASTIAN Vettel says it’s still too early to tell whether or not his Red Bull Racing team are once again leading the way into the Formula 1 season.
Teams completed the second of three pre-season testing sessions on Friday, and while the world champions from Tilbrook only topped the timing screens once during the four-day test, Vettel is confident that they will be in the running for the Australian Grand Prix on March 18.
“I think McLaren seem to be competitive. They do a lot of laps, they are very consistent. Judging the speed for everyone is still difficult but in terms of consistency they do look one of the best,” he said.
“For the others, they don’t run that much so I think McLaren is running most at this stage so it’s easier to judge, whereas if you look at Ferrari or Mercedes they do run but it’s not as clear and the runs are not that long so it’s hard to say.”
While the pre-season tests are normally about improving their contenders rather racing others around them, world champion Vettel said he couldn’t resist a smile when he raced around McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton for a few laps on the Barcelona circuit.
“Yeah it’s fun,” Vettel said. “Obviously in testing you don’t want to stand in each other’s way but it’s good every now and then to see another car and race a little bit.
“I think we were on different fuel loads at the time so you can’t really compare but still it’s good fun to follow someone and then get past and so on, and I think it’s the same the other way round so makes testing a bit more interesting at some stages.”
Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber has also ear-marked the McLaren pair of Hamilton and Jenson Button as the main contenders to Red Bull’s titles this season.
The Australian completed 182 laps on the final two days of the test, but Button completed 229 in his McLaren.
“I think McLaren look pretty well prepared, but we’ve seen it in the past where people aren’t very organised in the winter then arrive at the first race extremely organised,” Webber said.
“So we’re focusing on ourselves, we have a lot of work to do in Milton Keynes in the next five or six days to prepare the car for the next test, and then again a huge workload ready for Melbourne.
“Obviously the test has been put back one day, so that makes Melbourne a bit tighter but in the end we have gathered a lot of information in the last two tests.
“The winter testing has gone pretty well for me in terms of starting quite well in the RB8 so feeling positive. I’m looking forward to the first race; it’s good to go racing.
“We tested a lot of stuff, the team worked very well because we have a very big programme in terms of garage time – in terms of a lot of things to prepare the car, to test items – so the number of laps wasn’t massive but the information was quite good.”
The final pre-season test, again taking place in Barcelona, starts on Thursday March 1, before the all important first race of the 2012 season in Melbourne – scene of Vettel’s first win on the road to the F1 title last year.