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Vettel responds to sandbagging claims

Ferrari have looked strong in pre-season testing, but Sebastian Vettel feels Mercedes are still the strongest force on the grid.

sebastianvettel - cropped
Four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel conceded he did not show his full hand in Thursday's Formula One testing session in Barcelona, where he set the quickest times in pre-season so far.

With Ferrari expected to challenge in 2017, Vettel offered a glimpse of the team's potential with an impressive showing, despite appearing to ease off in the final sector.

The German set the fastest testing times of the year to date, twice beating the previous benchmark set by Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.

Asked if he had in fact been sandbagging, Vettel said: "It's not always intentional.

"We're trying to run through our programme, sometimes you go a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower.

"You could see this morning what we're trying to do, we're going faster than the rest of the week and last week. It's pretty clear.

"It doesn't really matter here, if you look at one single lap time – you need to look at more than that, and in that regard there's still a lot of work to do."

Continuing that theme of trying to tone down expectations, the four-time world champion put the spotlight back on Mercedes, who have been the dominant force in F1 for the past three seasons, following immediately on the heels of Vettel's glory years with Red Bull.

"The car is much better than last year because the nature of the formula has changed, so far things are making sense – but it's still early days," added Vettel.

"If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, if you look historically how slow they go in the testing, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races ... it's clear.

"They're very fast if you look at their long-run pace. They're the ones to beat."

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