Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari's Formula 1 rival Mercedes appear to be “in a league of their own” after dominating Friday practice ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. 

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton set the pace throughout both practice sessions in Melbourne and finished the day over eight tenths clear of fifth-placed Vettel, who had been as little as 0.038s behind the Mercedes driver in opening practice. 

“I think they [Mercedes] looked really quick,” Vettel said. “I don’t know if it was just us struggling a bit, but as a matter of fact they were in a league of their own. 

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“What was all that bullshit about with them being out of shape and so on? I didn’t understand that to be honest. So it was a bit of a surprise. 

“Maybe everyone else was struggling and then we can turn it around, but they looked very strong and much stronger than they claimed before the weekend.”

Vettel put his lack of competitiveness in the afternoon down to a loss of confidence with the handling of his SF90, despite the positive early signs he reported during pre-season testing. 

“It was a tricky day for us,” Vettel admitted. “I think for us we are not where we would like to be - not in terms of lap time but in terms of car feel and handling. 

"We didn’t really get into the groove and rhythm and that’s quite important around here.

“I had this more than once, but I can feel that I have the car under me that I had in testing but it is not doing the same thing here and there and that is why I am lacking confidence. 

"But we are all here working flat out to try and to try and understand what happened in the session, the things that we tried and how they changed it.

“So I don’t think it was an awful session. I think here and there bits were good so it’s about how we go from there and the things we can build on.”

Asked if he was optimistic that Ferrari can close the gap to Mercedes in time for qualifying, Vettel replied: "It’s hard to put a number to it, but I’m optimistic because I know the car can do much better. 

“So if we can get that confidence and that groove back, there is a lot of lap time in that around here.

“[We were] not as fast as maybe we would like, but it’s Friday. I’m sure by December 1 nobody remembers what happened on March 15.” 

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