Sebastian Vettel says he would be surprised if Mercedes can make “huge progress” from its anticipated Formula 1 engine upgrade at this weekend’s French Grand Prix. 

Mercedes suffered a setback at the Canadian Grand Prix when it was forced to postpone its planned power unit update after a last-minute “quality issue” was discovered, though the reigning world champions are expected to move onto its second-spec 2018 engine at Paul Ricard

But Vettel, who was boosted by Ferrari’s own engine upgrade as he dominated in Montreal to replace Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers’ championship, doubts Mercedes’ new power unit will make all the difference in its bid to return to winning ways. 

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“If you look at the power units, obviously we don’t have that many chances to introduce new engines, and even if we had it’s not that easy to make huge progress so I don’t… I’d be surprised if it would have such a deep impact,” Vettel explained.

“It depends. I can’t speak on their behalf and I don’t know how big the step was, going to be, or is going to be. If it’s a lot of power, then probably yes, if it’s not then probably it doesn’t make a difference.”

There has been speculation in the paddock that Mercedes might have to further delay the introduction of its ‘Step 2’ engine, though as yet no official word has come from the German manufacturer which has dominated the V6 hybrid era of F1. 

When asked if such a scenario would prove pivotal in the title race, Vettel replied: “I don’t know if that’s speculation or that’s true, but I believe they’re very strong no matter what, and as I said before, some races suit you a bit better for some reasons and others don’t.

“For example the advantage they had in Barcelona even if they stay with that engine, with that advantage they’ve had in that race, we can all put a lot of horsepower, a lot of downforce and our car still would lack pace compared to them.

“Now, is it all in the car? All in the engine? I don’t think so. I think it’s a combination of things. They had obviously a great weekend there and everybody else was a little bit behind. Other weekends it’s been the other way around so we’ll see how it’ll be this week and then the weeks after.”

Vettel said he is ensure what to expect from F1’s return to France after a 10-year hiatus, but he is confident Ferrari is in a strong position heading into the sport’s first-ever triple header of races. 

“I think if you look back at the bigger picture we had seven races and won three of them so it’s not bad at all,” he added. “The fact that we’ve been competitive in most of them I think makes us quite confident for the next races. I think its normal at some races you find yourself more competitive than others.  

“For here I don’t know what to expect. The asphalt is new, the track is sort of new for all of us. For sure all the people will bring development parts in the next weeks and so do we but I think if we have a similar trend to the last races where we were in the mix and able to fight then that’s positive.”

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