Arms-race speeds up even before first race

At the front of the field in 2012, before a single racing lap has even turned, the well-known F1 arms-race has already begun.

As the last days of pre-Melbourne testing are counted down in Barcelona, Red Bull and McLaren unveiled major evolutions to their recently-launched new cars. On the RB8, the major difference was the Sauber-style exhaust, after designer Adrian Newey was reportedly “impressed” with the 2012 solution devised by the Swiss midfield team.

“It’s effectively a completely new (Red Bull) car,” said the BBC’s technical analyst Gary Anderson, according to the Guardian.

The high-profile Red Bull upgrade was the perfect time for McLaren to quietly unveil its own heavily modified car, Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reported.

“Did you see that McLaren have rebuilt half their car?” Force India technical director Andrew Green is quoted as saying.

One new innovation on the MP4-27, apparently, is a Mercedes-like front wing W-duct.

“The upgrade is a major step forward; better than we expected,” said Jenson Button.

Elsewhere, the noises are not so positive: Ferrari stridently denied internet rumours Felipe Massa has been sacked, and then gagged both the Brazilian and his teammate Fernando Alonso from speaking to the media.

“The decision has been taken to keep the whole team fully focused on the job and there is not any polemic intent behind it,” the team insisted.

But while happily listing Red Bull’s likely contenders for 2012, Mark Webber admitted Ferrari’s form remains a “mystery”. Even less is known about those at the rear of the grid, with Marussia and HRT still yet to launch their 2012 cars. The Spanish team has sought permission at late notice to do a “filming day” with its new machine in Barcelona on Monday, while Marussia wants to run at Silverstone in the coming days.

At Marussia, the hold-up was caused by the FIA’s more stringent than ever crash tests.

“We’re going to make sure we get it right this time,” team boss John Booth told the BBC.