Sebastian Vettel believes Mercedes are still the favourites coming into the season opening Australian Grand Prix, but is confident Ferrari will be closer and able to push them a lot harder.
Ferrari finished up quickest on the combined times following the two pre-season tests at Barcelona, and while Vettel is uncertain just how close the Scuderia will be in the opening few races, he is confident about the outlook for 2016 overall.
“I think we have,” he replied on Thursday when asked if Ferrari has enough to trouble Mercedes this year. “Obviously the question is whether we are ready in time, but I think we are on a good track.
“We are making progress, we did so last year and I think we did a step over the winter, but as I said, whether it is big enough, we need to wait and see during the first couple of races.
“For sure our target is to turn things around. I think we will be closer than last year, especially I think in the race. But going into this season I don't think it is a surprise when I say that Mercedes is still the favourite. But as I said, we will try and become the favourite in the future.”
Meanwhile, Vettel also added that he expects the Ferrari to perform better in qualifying this season, not that it is something the Scuderia has specifically focused on.
“Usually qualifying pace is all about raw pace, so I think by trying to make our package quicker, make our car quicker or our engine stronger, we enhance our chances also in qualifying to do well. I don't think there is a big secret behind it,” he explained.
“As I said, qualifying is usually all about the raw performance of the car and we know we are still a little bit behind. We have been last year and obviously, as I said, we will try to be a lot closer. How close? I don't have an answer yet.
“But we have a plan and we know what we want to do and what way we want to go. Bit by bit I hope we improve and we will be in a better situation very soon with more pole positions under our belt.”
Pressed on if he will be surprised if the Scuderia is not more of a match for Mercedes, Vettel added: “We have worked very hard. Obviously the work on this year's car started very early and I think it is definitely a big improvement and a big step forward overall. Obviously from the outside it is easy to see the main differences. But I think especially on the inside we have done a very, very nice job and I think it allows us to be, first of all, quicker from the start and also have more chance of improving throughout the year. That is good news.
“Whether it is good news right from the start, I don't know yet, as I said earlier. We hope so, but we know that our challenge is very, very big. We know Mercedes obviously in the last two years has built a very, very strong and solid platform for the whole package, not just the engine, but also the car – it has been very strong, particularly last year and I think it is quite difficult to start the season with a worse car than you had before. We know the bar is high, but we are pushing, pushing very hard.”