Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel says Mercedes is “more at ease” than its rivals on-track and that other teams need to “stretch” to go quickly in pre-season Formula 1 testing.
Suggestions have grown over the two weeks of testing at Barcelona that Ferrari is holding back a lot of performance, while the team itself insists it is behind.
As the final morning of pre-season began, Mercedes’ week-one benchmark remained the fastest time of testing and Ferrari’s best was more than a second slower.
Vettel said: “It just looks as if Mercedes is more at ease, not just for the one lap which is obviously what people look at but just in general, the [longer] runs.
“We also had some runs that were better, some that were worse, so it’s a bit hard to tell – time of day, track condition.
“Then I don’t know what people are doing in the background.
“We tested some stuff that was very good, other stuff that wasn’t good. So, it also has an impact on lap times.
“But probably if you look right now I’d say Mercedes is at the top.
“Every time they go out, they are fairly quick with ease. Whereas others I think need to stretch a bit more.”
Ferrari has worked to add significantly more downforce to its 2020 car, changing its aerodynamic philosophy from last year when it wanted less drag and more straightline speed.
Early feedback from its drivers suggested Ferrari was successful in doing that, with Vettel noting there was much more cornering performance but also more drag in a straight line.
Ferrari’s programme to understand its car is part of why it has held back in terms of outright performance, although its rivals suggest it is deliberately sandbagging to create a narrative it is behind.
The team has also openly admitted it is not pursuing a headline time to avoid a repeat of last season, when it got misled by a strong pre-season performance then started the year off the pace.
“I don’t think there’s confusion,” Vettel said when asked about the mixed opinions over Ferrari’s overall competitiveness.
“The expectation is high. We are Ferrari, we are here to win.
“We’re not going out smashing the lap record and doing lap times with ease, but it’s also fair to say we don’t know until we get to Australia.
“It’s way too early now to draw any false conclusions, and I don’t see the point in any have any concerns or panic right now.
“It’s a long year ahead of us and we have a strong team.
“We need to make sure that if the car is not the very quickest in Australia, then we need to turn it around as soon as we can [so] it will be the quickest at the end of the year.”