Fernando Alonso admits it would be a "major surprise" if Red Bull are not leading the pack come the first race in Australia.
Although the triple World Champions Red Bull didn't hog the top of the timesheets as in previous pre-season tests, the general consensus is the RB9 have an edge over their rivals.
Alonso, who finished runner-up to Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers' Championship last season, believes the rest of the pack will be looking to challenge right from the word go, but it is clear who will be the team to beat.
"Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus will be there. And Mercedes, who have been working on this car since the middle of last season, have improved," he is quoted as saying in Spain's El Pais newspaper.
"But it would be a major surprise if Red Bull were not in front of everyone."
As for fighting for a podium, Alonso - who just "wants a car capable of fighting with the best" - said: "I think so. It is too early to make such statements, because right now we all don't know exactly where we are. And we will not know until Australia. Michael Schumacher had the best time in pre-season testing last year, and instead it was the two McLarens who took a clean sweep in Albert Park.
"In 2012 we started the Championship to 1.6 seconds of our rivals. Now we are closer."
Meanwhile, Felipe Massa echoed Alonso's comments about Red Bull heading to the season-opener as the number one team.
"The Red Bull is a very competitive car," he is quoted as saying by Autosport. "It is a very stable car and you can see, not just by being behind it, that it has a very good rear. They are consistent on long runs with tyre degradation.
"For me, it is maybe the most competitive car - as was shown in previous championships. They are really in a similar direction with their competitive situation.
"But there are other strong cars too. Mercedes looks good at this track, with the [single] lap times and they are not so bad on long runs either."
He added: "But we need to go to the first race and first qualifying to have a clear idea of exactly where we are. We are positive that we can start better season compared to last season, and I hope we can do that."
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