F1 Raceweek: Mind games in full flow as Hamilton and Vettel disagree on favourites tag

The Formula One season is yet to begin, but the mind games are well and truly under way ahead of the opening race in Australia.

Mercedes have been Formula One's powerhouse for the past three seasons, but a host of regulation changes promise to level the playing field somewhat in 2017.

Indeed, Lewis Hamilton stated during pre-season testing that Ferrari - who impressed in Barcelona - are the team to beat this season.

It was a stance the Briton reiterated at Thursday's news conference.

"I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment and I think they will definitely be the favourites but we'll find out more going into the weekend," he said. 

"It's interesting to see. Sebastian's usually a lot more hype and I can tell he's trying to keep a lid on it."

Vettel was equally keen to pin the favourites tag on Hamilton and Mercedes, insisting that Ferrari and the rest of the grid are still playing catch up.

"Well, I think he [Hamilton] must be [favourite]," the four-time world champion said.

"Mercedes obviously has been in very, very strong form the last three years and even though we changed the regulations, if a team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what you do with the rules. 

"I think it's very clear who is the favourite. For all of us sitting here, we are trying our best to catch-up."

Red Bull were the only team other than Mercedes to win a race in 2016, with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo taking a victory apiece, and finished second in the constructors' standings.

Pre-season indicates that Red Bull have work to do to catch up, but Ricciardo is hopeful that the title will be a close-run thing to make it exciting for the fans.

"It's like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago, everyone wanted to see someone else win. So it's natural. People like change," he said.

"For us drivers not being in a Mercedes, we want to see change as well. I think even to have more cars fighting for a win, it makes it more exciting. 

"I'll let Lewis answer but I think if he wins a race against four of us as opposed to just maybe his team-mate, I think that reward is bigger as well. 

"I think if you can win against more, it's not only good for the fans but that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. 

"Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can maybe take a few points away as well, it opens up the championship over the long term."

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