Rubens Barrichello has admitted that he is trying to keep a lid on his expectations for the coming Formula One campaign, having been both thrilled and surprised by the 'out of the box' performance of the new Brawn GP challenger.

While many continue to suspect that the BGP001's run to the top of the timesheets in last week's Barcelona group test may have had as much to do with the empty spaces on its bodywork, both Barrichello and team-mate Jenson Button have hinted that the speed is genuine, and that the car and team can be contenders from Melbourne onwards.

Both drivers took turns to lead the way in what was Brawn's first official test outing, having only shaken down the BGP001 at Silverstone just over a week ago, and left rivals admitting that they could be chasing the white, black and yellow machine in Australia. For Barrichello, the coming campaign is already something to be savoured, the Brazilian having been tipped for the scrapheap in favour of countryman Bruno Senna, but could now hold even greater significance.

''I think it is fairly early to speak about the championship, [but] all I can say is that I've been waiting for this moment for a long time,'' he told the official F1 website, ''I was afraid, back in Brazil, that I wasn't going to [be able to] put my expertise - and my happiness - into a nice car, because I didn't know if I was going to drive or not, [so] I am really happy to say that this year is going to be a happy one.

''I've been waiting for such a time to come for such a long time. In a way, I have waited, since I joined Honda, to have a car that can give me that good feeling. The car is what it is - it's just the beginning, it doesn't mean that we have won any races - but the team has done a fantastic job on the four days, with the amount of mileage that we've done. I am happy. I've been driving okay and, physically, I feel fine.''

Barrichello, in common with both Button and team principal Ross Brawn ahead of him, was quick to pay tribute to the workforce at Brackley, which pushed ahead with the design, build and development of the BGP001 despite not knowing whether they'd either see it hit the track, or even have jobs by the time the opening round of 2009 came along.

''It's a great group doing a good car - and [all] that after months of complications and political things,'' he underlined, ''The good guys were working, doing this car marvellously [and], now, we just have to keep on doing [the same]

''It's team work and the belief that they had in the two drivers. I believe in myself and Jenson being top of the list among the drivers - although I can see plenty of good drivers in Formula One - and the team did a fantastic job to produce a good car.''

Asked whether he thought he had the chance to go to Melbourne and win the curtain-raiser, Barrichello remained a little more coy, although his excitement was clear.

''Every race last year I went in to win,'' he insisted, ''But now the car is competitive and, although the team [has] changed name, we've learned a lot from the mistakes we made last year. Now we are a very well prepared group and I wish that will show in results.

''I think, aerodynamically, the car is quite strong. It is a good combination with the engine, in terms of power and drivability. It is running quite well with heavy fuel, low fuel and all sorts of fuel on the car.

''Right now, all I say would [only] mean that I would put myself under pressure for the first races. All I can confirm is that it is a good car, that it is a good engine, it is a good group and I think we will be the surprise of the year.''