Vettel insists Ferrari still strong despite early season upsets

Mattia Binotto and John Elkann

Mattia Binotto replaced Maurizio Arrivabene as Ferrari team principal

Valtteri Bottas says the updated Mercedes feels vastly different from the vehicle that the team struggled with during pre-season testing, after topping Friday practice at the Spanish Grand Prix. Just how that contest manifests itself at the Circuit de Catalunya will likely go a long way to identifying who will be the defending world champion's key rival this season.

Hamilton has won there for the past two years and three times in total.

Hamilton made clear to reporters at the Spanish Grand Prix on Thursday that Bottas would have to fight hard for position from now on.

Vettel is already 35 points off the lead, with Leclerc 40 points behind. From our analysis - as I keep telling everyone even though nobody believes me - they have had the stronger package for two races and we have had the stronger package for two races But we have delivered on four of them.

Speaking about Bottas' improved performances in 2019, Hamilton said he suspects Musconi's arrival on Bottas' side of the garage has offered a "helping hand". He was also emphatic he would not be allowing Bottas an easy ride on the track. "It is about consistency through the whole season. But I'm quite confident if we can get to that level then we should be very competitive". His two wins in Australia and Azerbaijan were entirely deserved, positive progress he acknowledged. "We haven't found the silver bullet - but in the last 10 years I never found the silver bullet so I don't think it exists". "Work with the team, work with my ability, focus on all the single details".

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"There's things that happen in the background that you won't know about", he said. "It's only been four races, so watch this space". Returning to Spain, where their form in testing was so strong, they badly need to unlock the potential they are convinced their auto possesses.

"On top of that, we will have a new power unit that we are introducing ahead of schedule, as the second specification was due to be brought to Canada".

Lewis Hamilton talks with mechanics in the pits.

Team principal Mattia Binotto agreed: "Obviously Mercedes are very strong at the moment. Right now, nobody knows what the season will bring", said Ecclestone.

"He's got great vehicle control and he is, perhaps, even faster than Vettel". Anything short of a win here would leave them with a mountain to climb.

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British bookmakers William Hill have Hamilton as race favourite at 6-4, with Bottas on 9-4 and Vettel and Leclerc priced at 9-2.

Should they fail to do so and Bottas puts in another winning performance, emphasising his championship credentials, Hamilton's attention will surely shift to his teammate in his bid for a sixth title.

"Actually I have a completely new engineering team, a new race engineer and also a new performance engineer", he said.

Early indications are that it is Mercedes and Bottas who once again have the edge in Spain.

Hamilton admitted he found the vehicle trickier to master, having complained of a struggle to get his tyres into the right condition across both sessions. It seems to be more of the same so far, with Valtteri Bottas topping FP1 for Mercedes.

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