WILLIAMS ON PACE: Williams' Felipe Massa sets the fastest lap during F1 testing at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, Image: AP / Manu Fernandez
MONTMELO, Spain - Williams leaped back into contention as a likely 2015 force during Formula 1 testing at the Catalunya circuit on Thursday (Feb 26 2015) with the fastest lap.
After the first two tests at Jerez and Barcelona it was suggested that in light of the UK team's low-profile performance rivals might be about to overtake Williams' as "best of the rest" behind Mercedes but then as upgrades were added during the final test before Melbourne it was Felipe Massa who set the headline time.
His lap, in fact, was easily the quickest of all the Barcelona running so far.
MORE COMPETITIVE WILLIAMS
Massa said: "I think we needed to prove that we are there in the fight. It's still difficult to be sure where we are, especially against Mercedes. We will have to wait until all the drivers are on the track at the same time with the same amount of fuel and the same tyres."
However he still believed Mercedes had the best car.
Mercedes, like Ferrari and Red Bull, was also struggling on Thursday with Lewis Hamilton limited due to a *MGU-K issue.
Team boss Toto Wolff was expecting his team to have a tougher 2015: "When you are in front, it is very difficult to keep the advantage. I see a more balanced spread in terms of performance. Ferrari has improved and we will see what McLaren and Honda can do.
"We are the team to beat but we have a target on our back and everyone is shooting at us."
That applies even to the midfield teams. Indeed, looking at the nine teams in action on Thursday, it was hard - McLaren aside - to identity who was behind. Toro Rosso turned up on Thursday with a car substantially revised from the first Barcelona test.
The team obviously struggling was McLaren-Honda. Mercedes, for instance, soared past 1000-laps for pre-season testing on Thursday while the newly Honda-powered MP4-30 has completed only 210.
Oskari Saari, a commentator for the Finnish broadcaster MTV3, said: "That's an average of only 23 a test day. At the moment it is difficult to imagine that even the legendary names of McLaren and Honda can in any way be ready when the racing starts in Australia."
Team boss Ron Dennis was trackside while star driver Fernando Alonso continues to recover following his bizarre crash and hospital stay.
McLaren's problems are mounting as Dennis reveals: "We have an engine problem now. I'm not sure how it will unfold over the next few days but we are still at the foot of a steep mountain."
*Motor-Generator Unit Kinetic recovery system