Felipe Massa has gone on record as saying that Brawn GP will be Ferrari's 'main opponent' in Formula 1 in 2009 – as Fernando Alonso predicted that it will be too close to call between all the teams in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this coming weekend.
Whilst Ferrari's traditional rivals McLaren-Mercedes have struggled throughout pre-season testing with the aerodynamic package on their MP4-24 – and are expected to languish some way off the pace Down Under – Brackley-based Brawn GP has stunned paddock observers by regularly lapping up to a second quicker than any of the opposition.
That performance has been attributed to the former Honda F1 outfit having begun development of its 2009 machine earlier than any other team – and, by dint of the BGP 001's late launch last month, having been able to spend more time in the factory and wind tunnel honing the car to the sport's new regulations than anyone else to boot.
Massa is sure that the speed the Brawn has shown in the hands of both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in recent weeks is absolutely real, and he admitted that he was perplexed by McLaren's apparent inability to adapt sufficiently well to the new rules.
“Looking at the latest test sessions, for sure Brawn GP is the main opponent,” the Brazilian is quoted as having said by the Associated Press
. “We saw Brawn GP rising from the ashes, running a second faster than everyone else.
“A lot of people say that the tests are not as important as a race weekend, which is true, but when you are always running behind (like McLaren are), it shows that you are not doing well.”
Having agonisingly missed out on the 2008 drivers' world championship crown to McLaren rival Lewis Hamilton in the very final race of the campaign in front of his adoring home fans at Interlagos last year, Massa argued that he is now 'stronger' for the experience – and confident that in the Scuderia's
new F2009, he has the tools to finish the job off twelve months on.
“Mentally, that was a great lesson for me,” the 27-year-old underlined. “It certainly made me stronger.
“The car is competitive, it's quick and it's consistent. We have been able to do a few race simulations and there were no problems with the car. We are ready to start the championship, and I hope we will be as competitive as in the previous years.”
Alonso, meanwhile, has revealed that he expects a particularly close-fought battle in Australia following the raft of regulation changes brought into force in the top flight this year – and the former double F1 World Champion is optimistic that Renault will be right up there amongst the front-runners.