Giancarlo Minardi has suggested that with less than four weeks now to go and few test days remaining ahead of the curtain-raising 2009 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of the month, Toyota leads the field on the reliability front - but Ferrari still has some work to do.

It has been difficult to discern just who is where in the pecking order due to the teams having tested simultaneously at two different circuits - Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and Toyota in Bahrain, and McLaren-Mercedes, Renault, Red Bull Racing, Williams, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Force India at Jerez in southern Spain.

Former team owner Minardi admits it is tricky to draw any hard conclusions - and will likely remain so until all the cars take to the track at once Down Under. He did, however, admit to having been impressed by the Toyota's durability and the out-of-the-box performance of Adrian Newey's new Red Bull Racing contender.

"Drawing conclusions after these test sessions is never easy," the Italian wrote in his regular column for, "in so much as every team has its own very precise programme to follow and carry out before Australia. What has caught the eye is that everyone seems to be very close in terms of times on the stopwatch, and we will surely have some nice surprises during the season.

"It certainly won't be an easy year, and everyone still has a lot more work to get through. In my opinion we haven't yet seen the cars' full potential - particularly from the aerodynamic point-of-view - because everyone is trying to conceal things so as not to give away any good ideas to the opposition.

"The final fortnight will give us the best indications, and will allow us to gain more information about the real strengths of each team. Reading the interviews, it appears the drivers prefer to have a balanced car, favouring the distribution of ballast to having the use of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) during a grand prix. With KERS not being compulsory yet, they don't want to risk compromising reliability in exchange for a few more horsepower.

"One very significant aspect which proves how devoted the teams are to keeping weight to a minimum is seen by the fact that all of the drivers are trying to lose weight too. They are endeavouring to exploit every loophole in the regulations with the objective of recuperating several tenths.

"On the subject of reliability, we've seen Toyota slightly ahead of its rivals, with Ferrari still needing to take several steps forward. At Jerez the new Red Bull made its entrance too, with some beautiful - visually-speaking - aerodynamic solutions; on paper it is possibly the team that has come up with the most innovative solutions, both on the chassis and also mechanical side. They still have a few reliability issues, but Sebastian Vettel has put in some good times."

The 61-year-old had words of scepticism, however, regarding the nascent USF1 outfit, due to operate from Charlotte, North Carolina with at the helm erstwhile Ligier and Onyx technical director Ken Anderson and one-time Williams and Ferrari team manager Peter Windsor. Minardi is unconvinced the new squad will ever truly see the light of day.

"Sincerely I don't know how realistic an all-American team based in America would be," he explained, "mainly due to the higher running costs that they would face. The mentality of racing in America is completely different to the European model, and it's the same for our drivers who decide to set off in conquest of the 'new continent'. In my view they (USF1) are simply trying to exploit the space left empty by Honda and the necessity of increasing the number of cars on the grid."



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