Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes will have their work cut out keeping Ferrari at bay

Lewis Hamilton says Ferrari have an advantage of half-a-second per lap over his Mercedes team, with Sebastian Vettel keeping the Italians on top on the final day of 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Vettel, returning to the cockpit for the first time since his crash on Wednesday, set a new testing lap record on Friday by eclipsing Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc’s time of one minute and 16.231 seconds by one-hundredth of a second.

But Mercedes finally posted what looks to be a more representative time, with Valtteri Bottas setting a time of one minute 16.561 to trail Ferrari by around three-tenths of a second.

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“I think the gap (to Ferrari) is potentially half a second,” reigning world champion Hamilton told reporters.

“Ferrari are the fastest. This is going to be the toughest battle yet. Ferrari’s pace is very, very good at the moment. The challenge is going to be harder than ever.”

But Hamilton added: “Testing is testing. There’s no reward for being quick in testing.

“We don’t know because everyone has different engine modes and fuel loads. It will be four races before we really know where we stand.”

The opening round of the 2019 world championship is scheduled to start in Melbourne on March 17.

Mercedes plan to make more significant changes to their W10 car, but Hamilton added that he has “no reason to expect” the gap to Ferrari to decrease.

“We could get there and it could be bigger, we could get there and it could be less,” Hamilton added.

“There’s no way looking at the GPS to say what fuel load we’re on and what engine mode they’re on. They’re faster on the straights than us, for example.

“Of course we hope it’s not bigger than we might see now and we hope that it’s better.

“But we can’t bank on that so we’ve just got to work towards closing that gap that we think might be there.”

PA

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