Jenson Button has made more optimistic noises about his chances of success in this year's F1 world championship, confident that his McLaren team will be closer to current top dogs Red Bull.
Button, who came closest to repeating his 2009 world title when he finished a distant second to RBR's Sebastian Vettel last year, believes that McLaren is well positioned to challenge its Milton Keynes rival from the opening round, unlike in 2011, when pre-season problems restricted testing and development. This time, it is Red Bull who appears a little unsure of itself, after a planned upgrade for the RB8 - unveiled dramatically to the surprise of the opposition in Barcelona at the weekend - did not appear to produce the desired step forward.
"It's great that they've brought a big upgrade because it takes everyone's attention off our car," he told Britain's Guardian
newspaper, "They seem to have a very different rear end system than they had before, but just having different pieces of bodywork doesn't mean it's a massive chunk of lap time. They'll be quick, but we don't know how quick.
"Sebastian is still the favourite because he is the double world champion, but I feel that the field will be bunched up a lot more now. Red Bull won't have the advantage they had out of the blocks last season."
Button is particularly optimistic given that the various upgrades added gradually to the MP4-27 seems to have worked more than the wholesale change made to Vettel's Red Bull, a failure on which left the German at the bottom of the Barcelona timesheets.
"We don't need more bits, we've got it all on the car already," Button insisted, "I'm a lot happier with everything compared with last year. We're not running round scratching our heads wondering what we'd done wrong. Last year, we had problems with the exhaust [but] we also had the problem that we just weren't very fast, even when the exhaust did work. Maybe that was kept secret, but we just weren't very fast.
"[This time], we've had a good winter in terms of reliability, apart from Saturday, and I feel we are making good progress with the car. There's nothing I'm afraid of with the balance of the car. It listens to changes, which is really important with a motor car, [and] I'm very happy with the direction we've taken with the car and with the package we have."
Despite his optimism, however, Button refused to rule out opposition from anywhere - even Ferrari, which appears to have been struggling to get its 2012 car to behave as it wants.
"I'm sure Ferrari can find their way out of a sticky situation – if they're in a sticky situation," he insisted, "I don't really know where they are in terms of pace. [But] we're all trying new things at the start of the year. One of us will get it right and I'm sure the others will follow suit in the end. They're obviously on the back foot, but I'm sure they'll catch up. They have the resources, they have the expertise and they really want and need a good season in 2012.
"Winter testing is a strange one. We had such a bad winter last year [but], then again, we got to the first race and [McLaren team-mate] Lewis [Hamilton] finished second, so we had a good result. We'd all like a challenge from Ferrari."