Scuderia Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is adamant that the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team are still the favourites to take the title this year, despite the German throwing down a serious challenge on the penultimate day of testing, with a number of fiercely fast laps.
Vettel had a busy morning at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona on Thursday, as he ran with the three softest tyre compounds, making watchers sit up and take notice as he set blistering times on each of the compounds.
The Ferrari man started off by posting a time of 1:19.341 on the soft tyre, with a 1:20.842 from Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo, the next best offering on the yellow walled compound.
The German then went on to almost equal the best time of winter testing so far on the super-soft tyre, which was set by Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas on Tuesday, with a 1:19.314, just four thousandths of a second off the pace of the Finn.
Not to be out done, Vettel then went on to set the fastest time of pre-season testing so far on the ultra-soft tyre, with a lap time of 1:19.024, despite backing off on the main straight, to cap off a highly productive morning for the Maranello based squad, after what had been a disrupted day six for teammate Kimi Raikkonen on Wednesday.
However, Vettel was quick to play down the ominous speeds seen from him earlier today when speaking to Sky Sports in the lunch break, adding that he still sees Mercedes as the in-form team going into the first round of the season.
“Mercedes are still very fast if you look at their long-run pace. They are the ones to beat. Historically, look at how slow they go in testing before ramping it up.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter where we are here. You don’t get any points now.”
It is a well-known fact that performances in pre-season testing should be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is difficult to determine what each team is doing and just how much fuel they have on board. However, it was clear for all to see that there was much more to come from the SF70-H, and that should be a stark warning for the other F1 teams.
“If you look at the timesheets at the end of the day of course it’s important to be somewhere up there but our target is just to go through our programme. We are a little bit behind but we are making progress.”
“The team is working very hard and last year’s experiences but have helped us grow as a team.”
What the German was willing to admit to was how much the car had been improved this season, which was the positive he would be taking away from winter testing.
“The car is much better than last year because of the nature of the formula. Things are making sense and I feel happy in the car but it is still early days.”
Ferrari failed to take a win in 2016, a fact President Sergio Marchionne was adamant they would put right this year. They have looked strong across the seven days of testing completed so far, and all signs indicate it could be the red team’s year.