Lewis Hamilton topped the times on the last session of testing before the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
The British McLaren driver, champion in 2008, clocked a fastest lap of 1 minute, 20.472 seconds, the quickest time of any driver over the four days of pre-season trials in Barcelona.
He edged out Red Bull’s Australian driver Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, Ferrari’s Brazilian ace back from last year’s season-ending horror injury at Monza.
Comeback king Michael Schumacher, the seven time former champion, came in sixth in the Mercedes GP.
Less than half a second covered the first eight drivers to underline the closeness of the top teams in terms of competitiveness.
Former F1 driver turned commentator for the BBC Martin Brundle singled out Ferrari however as being slightly ahead of the pack.
“Ferrari are the best in terms of good pace and reliability, and their tyre management seems strong,” he said. “Next up is probably Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes with Williams and Sauber hustling behind.”
Ross Brawn, who as boss of Brawn GP masterminded his team and Jenson Button’s path to last year’s constructor and driver’s titles, predicted a “super-hard battle” for this year’s championship.
“You saw in the beginning of testing that Ferrari were quite dominant but based on this test the teams are all pretty close,” Brawn told the BBC.
Brawn this season is acting as Mercedes’ team boss after the German manufacturer took a controlling stake in his outfit.
He suggested Mercedes still had some work to do.
“I don’t think Michael [Schumacher] will be the issue; we’ve got to get the car a little bit better. We’re just a little bit off where we want to be but we’re close enough to be within reach,” Brawn said.
“We’re getting some mileage done now and this morning you saw us have a go on lower fuel levels. We’re not a long way off, we’re just a few tenths off where we want to be,” he said. “We have a new package for Bahrain and I hope that makes the difference. The balance is getting better, there’s set-up and obviously efficiency counts. So the upgrade should bring predominantly an efficiency improvement and therefore a performance improvement.”
“We are close enough to have a go at [winning races], but obviously we’re not enjoying the same situation as we were last year,” he said.
Last year Brawn caused a sensation, taking over the Honda team after their pull out and producing a car helped by its controversial double-diffuser that was streets clear of its rivals, with Button steering it to wins in six of the first seven grand prix.
Brawn was at Schumacher’s side for all of the German’s seven titles, two with Benetton and five with Ferrari and he commented: “Michael has been very intense in terms of his approach.”
“He’s pretty close to what I remember. He stopped because he was tired of F1 but that’s gone now. He’s very passionate about racing again and is working hard with Nico [Rosberg] to improve the car,” Brawn said.
The Bahrain Grand Prix gets the circus rolling on March 14.