Ferrari Formula 1 chief Mattia Binotto believes there has been “very little” difference in his team’s performance between pre-season testing in Barcelona, and the Bahrain and Chinese grands prix.

The Italian squad was billed as the favourites heading into the 2019 season, though it is yet to win a race in the opening three rounds of the campaign, with rivals Mercedes recording three consecutive one-two finishes.

Ferrari suffered a bizarre performance dip at the season-opener in Australia, but recovered strongly in Bahrain and would have won had Charles Leclerc not encountered late engine drama. The Scuderia then struggled to match Mercedes in China but Binotto insists there have not been huge swings in performance.

“It’s difficult to say if it’s up and down because at the end, I think Australia has been certainly an exception in that respect, where the difference was very, very high and very big, even not explained maybe today,” Binotto explained.

“Otherwise I think between Barcelona, Bahrain, and China, the difference was a few tenths, very little. That’s what you may expect with two cars that are very strong and very similar in some respects.

“Certainly we know where are the limits of our car, and these limits may be emphasised in some circuits compared to others. I think the key will be to develop the car such that we make it even stronger in the future.

“I think it’s too early stage for us, we need to look at all the data and process our performance relative to them,” he added. “I think that the competition is very tough, and there are races where you are maybe in front a few hundred of tenths, and races where you are behind.

“More important is to keep up the development of the car, because it will be a very long race, 18 races to go.”

Binotto has labelled the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix as an “important moment” in the team’s season following its early struggles, with Ferrari set to be boosted by “a few” upgrades this weekend as it bids to reduce Mercedes’ 57-point advantage in the constructors’ championship.

Ferrari has been tipped for a strong weekend in Baku due to the circuit’s long straights - an area Ferrari has excelled in so far this season - though Binotto stressed it does not make his side favourites.

“If you look at the speed of Mercedes [in China], I thought they were very strong as well,” Binotto said. “I don’t think there is much on the straights between us and the others.

“Baku is a circuit where you have got a different aero configuration, certainly, so I think it’s not only power units, it will be aero configuration we may choose for there.

“It’s not only the straight in Baku, it’s a lot of corners. It’s a city circuit, very difficult in that respect. So let’s see.”

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