Lewis Hamilton believes that Ferrari may now be the favourites for the upcoming Formula One season.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team boasted greater mileage than any of their rivals and posted the fastest time at last week’s first winter test in Barcelona.
But Ferrari, who failed to record a single victory last year, were evenly matched with the sport’s all-conquering team.
And the famous Italian constructors continued their impressive from on the opening day of this week’s concluding test after four-time champion Sebastain Vettel completed a marathon 168 laps – more than two and a half race distances of the Circuit de Catalunya.
Vettel also posted a faster time than Hamilton who completed 49 laps for Mercedes before handing over testing duties to team-mate Valtteri Bottas after lunch.
Felipe Massa was fastest for Williams ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with Vettel third and Hamilton fourth.
“I think Ferrari are possibly the favourites,” Hamilton, 32, said. “We can’t take our eyes off them because they have been doing such a great job at the moment.
“Red Bull look like they are have gone quite quick today as well. We’ll see over the next days and, most importantly, over the next weeks, but it’s going to be close in the first race, that’s for sure.
“Just on times it looks like Ferrari might be quickest, and maybe we’re very close with the Red Bull behind.”
Ferrari have not claimed the constructors’ title since 2008 while Kimi Raikkonen was their last driver to win the individual championship one year earlier.
The Italian team finished a distant third behind both Mercedes and Red Bull last season following a disappointing season.
But while the Ferrari hierachy will be quietly optimistic following the opening five days of testing – with just three more to go before the opening round in Australia later this month – they are also likely to express caution having also impressed at this stage last year.
For Hamilton, his time in the car was disrupted by an issue with the floor of his Mercedes.
“It didn’t feel spectacular this morning,” said Hamilton, who was accompanied in the Barcelona paddock by his pet dog Roscoe.
“We had some issues with tyre temperatures and with some floor damage so I sacrificed some of my time so Valtteri could run in the afternoon.”
Hamilton will return to his Mercedes cockpit after lunch on Wednesday with team-mate Bottas kicking off Mercedes’ programme on day two of the concluding test. The season starts in Melbourne on March 26.