Sebastian Vettel has placed the Formula 1 favourites tag firmly on Mercedes ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix having lost out to both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas after Friday’s practice sessions.

The Ferrari driver, who is yet to top a Friday practice session so far this year, ended FP2 third quickest almost a quarter of a second off Hamilton at the top of the times as Mercedes introduced a significant chassis upgrade in Spielberg having debuted its power unit update last week in France.

While Ferrari has frequently been seen to be sandbagging on Fridays this year, Vettel feels Mercedes’ pace advantage is evident at the Red Bull Ring as he braces for a tough race weekend with the German manufacturer claiming victory in Austria every year since 2014.

“It’s quite close, I think Mercedes had the upper hand today, they looked very quick in all conditions but I think it was a tricky Friday,” Vettel said. “I think we did a lot of laps, which was good, and we should be well prepared for tomorrow and also for Sunday.”

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Vettel has also placed huge importance on qualifying strongly for the Austrian race given the limited overtaking opportunities, even with a third DRS zone installed for this weekend, and will be aiming to topple the Mercedes duo for pole position.

“It’s always important to start from pole position but here it’s really difficult to overtake,” he said. “I think today we had good speed, on Saturdays we’re normally a bit stronger than on the first day so I’m hoping that’s the case tomorrow and then we’ll see.”

Vettel lost his F1 world drivers’ championship lead to Hamilton last time out in France and now trails the Mercedes driver by 14 points.

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