Lewis Hamilton has made it clear that he expects a strong challenge from Ferrari this year, and he believes that the Italian team did not show its ultimate potential in testing.
Ferrari topped the times on several of the Barcelona test days but when tires were taken into account, Mercedes still looked good. However, Hamilton believes that there is more to come.
“I think this year that the whole pack looks like it’s a little bit closer,” said Hamilton. “But personally I think that they’ve got something up their sleeve this weekend. I think Ferrari are going to be a lot closer than they talk about, than just arriving on a low but going to deliver high.”
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Hamilton said he had no regrets about the decision of Mercedes to focus on running the medium tire throughout testing.
“Of course, the performance runs are always the most fun, the long runs are, kind of, long. And less exciting. But we did what we had to do and I guess we went into the testing with a goal of achieving 800 kilometers a day. We didn’t actually think we were going to do it so perhaps in hindsight we would have shifted our running. But at the end of the day it suited us perfectly.”
Hamilton said he was not worried about the new radio restrictions.
“We’re all in the same boat. Some of us will handle it better than others. I don’t particularly see there being much of be a problem. But is it good? I don’t really know but we’ll manage it the best way we can.”
Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, refused to be drawn on the potential of the 2016 Ferrari on Thursday, save for admitting that improvements have been made since last year.
The F1 world is waiting to see this weekend just how much of a step the Italian team has made since last season.
“Obviously, the question is whether we are ready in time,” he said. “But we are on a good track, we are making progress, we did so last year, I think we did a step over the winter, but as I said, whether it’s big enough or not I think we need to wait for the first couple of races and see. But for sure our target is to turn things around, but going into this season I don’t think it’s a surprise when I say that Mercedes is still the favorite but, as I said, we try to become the favorites in the future.”
Ferrari has struggled for qualifying pace in recent seasons, and testing suggested that the problems have been addressed at least to some degree.
“Well, usually qualifying pace is all about raw pace so I think by trying to make our package quicker, make our car quicker, our engine stronger, we enhance our chances also in qualifying to do well. I don’t think there is a big secret behind it – usually in qualifying, as I said, it’s all about the raw performance of the car, and we know that we are still a little bit behind.
“We have been last year and obviously we try to be a lot closer this year, how close, I don’t know, I don’t have an answer… yet. But we have a plan; we know what we want to do; we know where we want to go, so bit by bit I hope we improve and we’ll be in a better position very soon, with more pole positions under our belt.
“Obviously the project of this year’s car started very early so I think it is definitely a big improvement, big step forward overall. Obviously from the outside it’s easy to see the main differences but I think especially on the inside we’ve done a very, very nice job and it allows us to be, first of all, quicker from the start and also have more chance of improving throughout the year. So that’s good news.
“Whether it’s good news right from the start, I don’t know. As I said earlier, I don’t know yet. I hope so. We know that our challenge is very, very big, we know that Mercedes in the last two years have built a very, very strong and solid platform for the whole package. Not just the engine but also the car has been very, very strong, in particular last year, and I think it is quite difficult to start the next season with a worse car than you had before. So we know the bar is high, but we’re pushing, pushing very hard.”