Sebastian Vettel believes Mercedes’ improved qualifying pace is becoming a “trend” during the 2019 Formula 1 season.

For the second race weekend in a row, Ferrari looked to be the team to beat by dominating throughout practice, only for Mercedes to record another front-row lockout in Baku as Valtteri Bottas pipped teammate Lewis Hamilton to pole position.

Vettel, who ended up over three tenths off pole in third, suggested Mercedes is hiding its true performance during practice by “doing things differently”, before unleashing its true pace in qualifying.

“I think it’s been a trend that we are a bit faster in free practice compared to them [Mercedes], so I think it’s just down to doing things a bit differently,” Vettel said.

“I struggled a bit in qualifying and it wasn’t straightforward. So, mostly I think with the track changing, going with the conditions was quite difficult. Only in the end I think it started to come back.

“The last two runs, and especially the last run, seemed to be a bit more straightforward in Q3. Before that obviously it was key to make it through which, with the interruptions that we had, and the cleaning going on on the track, wasn’t the most straightforward thing.

“Certainly not happy from a team point of view because the pace looked really, really good in the practice sessions so far - yet we find ourselves behind those two again!”

The four-time world champion says he is beginning to see a pattern emerging regarding the competitive order on a race-by-race basis and is confident Ferrari is now much better placed to understand its deficiencies compared to its chief rival.

“I think we are getting better at understanding where we are weak compared to Mercedes,” he explained.

“Obviously the first couple of races have been difficult for us. The tracks have been varying, the conditions have been varying, but I think there’s a sort of pattern emerging.

“I think we were in a much better place here, considering that the corners here are fairly low speed. I think we are much more competitive but not yet there, otherwise the picture [in qualifying] would have been a bit different.

“It is a long race and I believe we have a better car with continuous laps. Now we look forward to the race and I’m sure we can recover.”

 

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