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Lewis Hamilton has refuted Sebastian Vettel's assertion that Mercedes is simply sandbagging coming into qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, insisting it is not a practice the team resorts to.

Ferrari emerged as the clear front runners following Friday practice around the Sochi Autodfrom, with championship leader Vettel turning in a best time some seven tenths up on Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

However, the four-time world champion says he is unconvinced by the margin back to Mercedes, Vettel emphatically declaring the team to be 'sandbagging' and is destined to make big gains ahead of qualifying.

It is an assertion that Hamilton is irked by, rebutting that Vettel is simply 'trying to blow smoke' and that Mercedes is prepared to accept Ferrari is simply the quicker package around the Sochi Autodrom.

"We never sandbag, there's no benefit to sandbagging. Ever.

"I think Ferrari have done in the past but there is zero benefit for us to do so. We are trying to get the car to the optimum balance-wise and today has generally been a tricky day. The Ferraris definitely are quickest, as they have been all year so far, so we will work hard this evening and into tomorrow to try and see if we can pick up some pace."

"I don't know why he would suggest that [we are sandbagging]. That's just Sebastian, trying to blow smoke our way but really those guys are just very quick. If we can get our tyres working properly I think we can be closer.

Indeed, Hamilton says Mercedes is unable to get its tyres to work as well as Ferrari can around the low grip venue but will endeavour to make gains in third free practice on Saturday.

"There's no difference to our car compared to the previous races, the gap is still very, very close between us, as it has been in the past. Today we just have been struggling to get the car to work with the tyres.

"Being a Friday it's not something we can discard. It is true today, that is the pace, but I don't think we are operating at an optimum level. Hoping that tonight we can do some work to understand why and tomorrow will be quicker, which I think we can be."

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