Formula 1

Vettel has excelled during testing in Ferrari's 2017 car .

Sebastian Vettel plays down Ferrari favourites tag after impressive winter testing

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The hotly anticipated 2017 F1 season gets underway in classic fashion with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 26.

Currently, the last pieces of fine tuning are being carried out by all teams as winter testing concludes in Barcelona.

While Mercedes comfortably won the Constructors' Championship in 2016 through the performances of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, there is potential for a changing of the guard in 2017.

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Ferrari has been particularly impressive at the Circuit de Catalunya and on the penultimate track day, Sebastian Vettel outpaced the rest of the field by an impressive three-tenths of a second.

The four-time world champion produced a lap time of 1:19.024 to comfortably better the previous leading time of new Mercedes recruit, Valterri Bottas.

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The German was also in superb form on Pirelli’s soft tyres, as he recorded four laps under 1:19.5, despite no other team entering the 1:19s.

While Vettel appeared to be pleased with the progress both he and his team were making, he was cautious on interview.

“The team is working very hard and last year’s experiences have helped us grow as a team,” he told Sky Sports.

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“The car is much better than last year because of the nature of the formula. Things are making sense and I feel happy in the car but it is still early days.”

While Ferrari are the sports longest serving and most successful team, they have not won a Constructors’ Championship since 2008 or a Drivers’ Championship since Kimi Raikkonen’s triumph in 2007. 

They have consistently flattered to deceive during winter testing in recent years and Vettel was quick to stress that despite his excellent lap times, Mercedes are still the team to beat.

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"Mercedes are still very fast if you look at their long-run pace," said the 29-year-old. "They are the ones to beat. Historically, look at how slow they go in testing before ramping it up."

"Right now, it doesn't matter where we are here. You don't get any points now."

"If you look at the timesheets, at the end of the day, of course, it's important to be somewhere up there but our target is just to go through our programme. We are a little bit behind but we are making progress."

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Cautious optimism, therefore, seems to be the stance adopted by Vettel as the season draws ever nearer.

In a little over two weeks, we will find out whether Ferrari and its star man will be able to translate winter form into podiums and points in Melbourne.

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