sport

Neale: McLaren can be competitive

McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale believes the team are firmly in the shake up for this season's Formula One titles.

The third and final pre-season test that starts on Thursday in Barcelona will offer more of an indication as to the likely pecking order ahead of the opening grand prix in Australia on March 17.

But over the past eight days of testing - four in Jerez earlier this month and a further four in Barcelona last week - there appears little to separate the frontrunners in McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus.

"Our car appears normal, we've had no major issues and the drivers report the handling is good," said Neale.

"I don't feel we've seen anybody yet do a lap time we felt we could not have done if we'd changed the fuel load. Apart from that it's a bit of speculation.

"It's a bit like the beginning of last season - nobody stands out as being head and shoulders above anybody else at the moment and nobody appears to be hanging off the back either."

Neale has confirmed the team have taken "quite a large package of bits and pieces" to Barcelona for the forthcoming test, which will be close to the spec of car that will run in Melbourne.

Given the stability in the regulations from last year through to this season, Neale does not "expect there to be a big shake up", with the opening grands prix closely fought.

The one key difference is Pirelli's new range of rubber tyre which for this season, although faster, also degrades more quickly.

Again, it will be a case of which team can swiftly get on top of the tyre situation.

"It'll be a really close start to the season," added Neale.

"Then it will be about who has to go back and fix something that's wrong and who can really get a foot down in terms of development and try and pull some clear headway.

"We also have to get used to working with the new Pirelli tyres now as they are a different compound and have a different temperature working range.

"We won't really know how to get the best out of them until we've had some hot circuits, so we'll have the first three or four races, then I'd expect to see a pattern emerge.

"But we should definitely have a good crack at it this year."