Feb.29 (GMM) Red Bull remains in front, but McLaren is not too far behind.
That is the view of former Grand Prix driver Alex Wurz, who in 2012 returns to the Formula One paddock as a 'driver mentor' at Williams.
The Austrian kicked off his duties at the Barcelona test recently, where he drew an initial impression of the likely pecking order for this season.
"Red Bull is still on top," he told the Sportwoche magazine, "but not as superior as they were in 2011.
"That it's McLaren just behind them is remarkable, because they've been too slow for the start of a season for many years," added Wurz, predicting a close battle between the two rivals.
Le Mans driver Wurz, 38, sees Mercedes as the third force in 2012: "They've made a step forward," he said, adding that Ferrari comes next.
Red Bull is still on top, but not as superior as they were in 2011
Behind Ferrari, he says, are Williams, Lotus and Force India.
Referring to Vijay Mallya's outfit, Wurz says: "They are really fast and, for me, they really could be the unknown quantity that could be a surprise."
Toro Rosso and Sauber have been setting some good pre-season laptimes, but Wurz thinks both teams "have some problems".