No clear favourites after week of testing in Formula One

There are no clear favourites yet for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix though Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher fancy Red Bull-Renault.

BARCELONA // The small smattering of spectators, basking in the sunshine at Circuit de Catalunya and hopeful of gauging the performance of Formula One's 12 race teams, probably left the stands yesterday having learnt little other than to next time bring sunscreen.

For while the dark clouds that had threatened rain for the past two days receded to provide an unobstructed view of the Spanish sun, the drivers, team principals, engineers, journalists and - yes - spectators attending the final testing session before the season starts all remained in the dark; their picture of the season ahead as unclear as a tempest.

The Red Bull-Renault team have dominated this week, but it was Sergio Perez, the rookie Mexican driving with Sauber, who surprisingly clocked the day's fastest lap with a time of 1min 21.761secs.

Felipe Massa of Ferrari and Red Bull-Renault's Mark Webber were close behind, while Michael Schumacher, the Mercedes-GP driver who has struggled in testing so far this year, was once again more than a second off the pace and lagged back in fifth place.

What this means come March 27 when the Australian Grand Prix gets the new season under way, is, ultimately, nothing. Zip. Nada.

Not even Perez's own mother would expect her 21-year-old debutant son, who has previously said he would be happy to finish top 10, to be standing atop the podium in Melbourne. And yet his fastest lap yesterday was not only the day's best, but also the quickest lap of the week.

"We did a lot of useful preparation work for the first race weekend," said Perez, who will not get behind the wheel again until he takes part in Australia's first free-practice in two weeks time.

"It was an interesting and positive programme. It was my last day of testing and I feel ready and I can't wait to race."

Schumacher, however, insisted it is Red Bull, the manufacturers' champions, who will be the team to beat at Albert Park.

"We know the Red Bulls are very strong and they are the ones we need to look at," Schumacher said, adding that in terms of his car challenging for race wins "we are certainly not quite in this position, but I never expected to be at this stage. The season is long."

Massa, who completed 132 laps - 27 more than any of the other dozen drivers taking part in yesterday's sessions - agreed with his old Ferrari teammate, but added that at this stage no team truly knows their own power yet.

"First of all it's the team who won last year, and second, they are very quick here, so I point to Red Bull," Massa said.

"But I think it's very difficult to say now. We need to wait until we have everybody together at the same time with the same fuel and the same tyres."