Mar.4 (Reuters) Tensions are mounting as the opening round of the 2012 Formula 1 world championship fast approaches, and top teams are revealing very little as they race against time to complete pre-season development on their new cars, with Ferrari going as far as making their drivers unavailable to media in the current (final) test.
Among the drivers who have now completed their Formula 1 preseason testing programme is Mark Webber who had his last day in the RB8 his last day in Barcelona on Saturday, with champions Red Bull handing him an upgraded car to try out before his home Australian Grand Prix on March 18.
With rivals suspecting Red Bull were keeping their powder dry for Melbourne, the Australian was eighth fastest of 10 drivers on track and played down the importance of the new chassis and changes that included a revised exhaust layout and new front wing.
“The thing that everyone’s obviously asking about is the changes we made to the car but I have to say the car was not massively different to the one I drove on Thursday,” he declared.
“We went through the normal programme, nothing drastic happened and we just keep working away,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to Melbourne.
“It’ll be good to get the season going,” he said.
Webber, who has never stood on the podium at his home race but did win the final grand prix of 2011 in Brazil, hands over to double world champion Sebastian Vettel for Sunday’s last session in Barcelona.
The Australian suggested McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus could be Red Bull’s closest rivals with Ferrari something of a mystery.
The Italian team declared their drivers would not be available to the media at the test, in what some saw as a bad omen despite Ferrari’s assurances that was not the case.
“The decision has been taken to keep the whole team fully focused on the job and there is not any polemic intent behind it,” the team said on their official Twitter feed.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was fourth fastest for Ferrari.
Sauber’s Mexican driver, Sergio Perez finished day three with the quickest lap after Lotus had set the pace on the previous two days. McLaren’s Jenson Button was second and Australian Daniel Ricciardo third for Toro Rosso.
Button, the 2009 world champion, said he had a good feeling about the new package for Melbourne although he needed more time to find the right balance after an hydraulics problem in the morning and then rain in the afternoon.
“The car is feeling good. Whether we’re fastest, second fastest, not fast, I don’t know. But it feels [as if] we’ve made a good step,” he told reporters.
“The Red Bull, in my opinion, was heavy on fuel today. They made some upgrades today that they ran. Perhaps they don’t want to show their hand.”