F1 Raceweek: Vettel wary of Mercedes despite Ferrari strength
Sebastian Vettel refuses to believe Ferrari are favourites for further Formula One glory at the Russian Grand Prix, remaining certain Mercedes are the team to beat.
Mercedes were expected to continue their dominance of the sport this season, but Ferrari have thrown a spanner in the works with Vettel winning two of this year's three races to sit top of the drivers' standings.
Despite that, the Silver Arrows are still considered the frontrunners in Russia having won each of the three grands prix at Sochi, with Mercedes-powered cars accounting for seven of the nine podium spots on offer.
"On paper Mercedes is the clear favourite, as the Sochi track is a circuit made for Mercedes - so the closer we can get the better," Vettel told the official F1 website.
Having seen their stranglehold on the competition loosen, Mercedes' use of team orders in Bahrain - when Valtteri Bottas was told to make way for Lewis Hamilton - shows they will continue to push as hard as possible.
Red Bull will be desperate to get themselves back in the mix as soon as possible after reliability and chassis issues this season, while all signs point to McLaren enduring yet another miserable weekend.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM PRACTICE
Ferrari continue to pull up trees and look to have the superior race pace in Sochi.
The Italian team appear to be capable of getting more out of the softer compound tyres, with Kimi Raikkonen responding to recent criticism of his performances by topping the timesheets in FP1 before Vettel went fastest in the second session.
Mercedes could not match Ferrari's traction on the ultrasoft tyres and both Bottas and Hamilton registered times roughly half a second slower than their rivals in FP2, though Vettel is sure they were sandbagging.
"Yes, definitely they will be fine. This is a circuit that suits them so they will be fine," he told Sky Sports at the conclusion of the second session.
Max Verstappen was a distant fifth despite a loss of power to his Red Bull ending his session 20 minutes early.
McLaren's woes look set to rumble on. Stoffel Vandoorne is facing a 15-place grid penalty after his power unit was furnished with a fifth MGU-H and turbocharger of the season - and the fourth race has not even begun yet.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) - 68 points
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 61 points
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) - 38 points
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) - 34 points
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - 25 points
1. Ferrari - 102 points
2. Mercedes - 99 points
3. Red Bull - 47 points
4. Force India - 17 points
5. Williams - 16 points
2016: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Both of Friday's sessions took place in brilliant sunshine which is expected to remain for the weekend. Ferrari proved better at getting heat into the tyres to blast out better times and that should hold them in good stead.