Lewis Hamilton is optimistic McLaren has the pace to fight at the front in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix when the season kicks off next month.
Hamilton completed his week's work at Barcelona today, after covering 120 laps on his way to the sixth fastest time of the day. The McLaren driver admitted the feeling this year was completely different from the 2011 preseason, when the team struggled with its car.
"Last year I think I struggled to do 30 laps. I think we struggled to do 10 laps without the exhaust failing," Hamilton said at the end of the day. "So to do a whole day and to do 120 laps, I can't remember last time I did that many laps. Definitely we feel in a much more comfortable place and confident that we can be at the front fighting with the guys at the top."
The Briton suggested, however, that Red Bull may still have the edge after he and Sebastian Vettel completed a race simulation at the same time during today's session.
"I was just focusing on my job. I think we were out at similar times during the runs," Hamilton said of his race simulation. "I was always on used tires and I think he started with new tires in the second couple of stints, but generally he looked very, very competitive, perhaps a little bit faster than us.
"But again, we don't know what fuels loads they are on and it's much too early to say. But when he was behind me his car looked like it was handling quite well."
Hamilton said he had been surprised by how strong his car was on the high-speed corners of the Barcelona circuit, and is hopeful future upgrades will make it even better.
"It's actually been quite a surprise that the car has been behaving really well in high-speed corners," he said. "I think the baseline of our car is better than last year's and the characteristics of the car is that it's better in high speed.
"We have made some changes to enable that compared to the last test, but it's been performing better in Turn 3 and in Turn 9 than I expected. At some stage, we will have some upgrades and it will be even better through the high-speed corners."
The British driver will return to action at the start of the month for the final test before the first race, and said he could not wait to go racing.
"I love the last test. That's usually when the car is at its best and when you get a really good feel of where the car will be when we get to the first race. The last one is always exciting because you know the next time you get in the car it will be the first race in Australia, and that's a fantastic feeling. I can't believe we are so close."