Formula 1's expected title contenders in 2009 have offered their views on the surprise challenger to have appeared in their midst over the past week of pre-season testing in Barcelona - the Brawn GP BGP 001.

In the hands of both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, the new, Mercedes-powered ex-Honda machine has stunned the paddock by setting lap times that rivals simply cannot match - and consistently, too. And this for a team that for the much of the winter looked like it may not even make the starting grid for the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in two weeks' time.

BMW-Sauber ace Robert Kubica has already quipped that if he was to put his money on anyone Down Under it would be Button, whilst Ferrari star Felipe Massa reckons Brawn GP could even be faster than the Scuderia's new challenger.

"As far as the performance is concerned, I'm really satisfied with our competitiveness compared to all the others," the Brazilian reflected, "except obviously Brawn GP, who were unreachable for all of us. Right now we're not the fastest car on the track.

"I can just look at the lap times and what we see from the outside. I'm not an engineer so I cannot say [if] they have ballast or not, but even if they have no ballast and they put ballast [in] they will be quick anyway. It is very surprising."

Those sentiments were broadly echoed by former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who predicted Brawn GP, Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and possibly also Toyota to make the early running this season.

"That they should be so quick in the first tests is not normal," the Spaniard told reporters in Barcelona on the subject of Brawn GP. "The truth is that they have a car that Honda began working on in 2007, to use in 2009. You can see that in its design, because it is a very detailed car with a different look to the others."

The 21-time grand prix-winner did, however, concede that he is now happier with his own mount - Renault's initially troubled R29 - than he was when the car first rolled out two months ago, and argued that the prospects for the campaign ahead are better than they were at the same stage twelve months ago.

"I am much more optimistic than this time last year, without a doubt," the 27-year-old acknowledged, rating his chances of triumphing in Melbourne as five-out-of-ten, and in the world championsip as seven.

"In 2008 I was not optimistic, and after the first two or three races I thought that for the rest of the championship I would be a tourist in those cities where we were competing!

"The truth is that we are not too far off. We are just a few tenths from the leaders - and this situation is better than last year."



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