Ferrari and McLaren: jury out on which is fastest

To no one’s great surprise Ferrari and McLaren have been the teams to beat through Formula 1 winter testing, but any real comparison was made difficult by the fact that the two teams avoided each other in early February.

McLaren joined the majority of the teams at Barcelona on February 1-3 and Jerez on February 13-15, while in between Ferrari ran a pair of three-day test sessions at Bahrain with only Toyota for company.

All the leading teams were due to be at Barcelona in late February, when a clearer picture of the pre-Melbourne form book is expected to emerge.

When the two main contenders last met at Valencia on January 22-24 the honours were split. Heikki Kovalainen set the fastest overall time of the test for McLaren, but Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen topped the other two days and the red cars were deemed to be consistently quick in all conditions.

It was harder to judge the pace of Ferrari’s F2008 in Bahrain, but Toyota was easily beaten and the times compared favourably with last year’s when the cars were still running driver aids. Worryingly for the Maranello camp, Massa suffered an engine failure and clutch problems.

High winds spoiled much of the Jerez test and made it hard for the teams to judge aero developments, but McLaren set the pace most of the time. Kovalainen was comfortably quickest overall during qualifying runs on the final day and proved that he is settling in well with his new team.

McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh cautioned against reading too much into the Barcelona head-to-head. “While this will give us the possibility of a more comprehensive comparison, we will nevertheless focus on our own test programme rather than chase times,” he said. “The real litmus test of performance will take place in Australia.”

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