Sebastian Vettel believes Ferrari has made a “big step” in their pursuit to challenge Mercedes for race wins in the 2016 Formula One season.
Ferrari finished 275 points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship last season as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finished first and second respectively in the drivers’ standings.
However, Vettel managed to win three races in 2015 to claim third spot in the championship after the Italian manufacturer went all of 2014 without a single victory.
And the four-time world champion is confident Ferrari has made significant progress in the off-season to close the gap to Mercedes.
“I think we have,” Vettel replied when asked if Ferrari has the ability to trouble Mercedes this year. “Obviously the question is whether we are ready in time, but I think we are on a good track.
“We are making progress, we did so last year and I think we did a step over the winter, but as I said, whether it is big enough, we need to wait and see during the first couple of races.
“For sure our target is to turn things around. I think we will be closer than last year, especially I think in the race. But going into this season I don’t think it is a surprise when I say that Mercedes is still the favourite. But as I said, we will try and become the favourite in the future.
The German added: “We have worked very hard. Obviously the work on this year’s car started very early and I think it is definitely a big improvement and a big step forward overall. Obviously from the outside it is easy to see the main differences.
“But I think especially on the inside we have done a very, very nice job and I think it allows us to be, first of all, quicker from the start and also have more chance of improving throughout the year. That is good news.
“Whether it is good news right from the start, I don’t know yet, as I said earlier. We hope so, but we know that our challenge is very, very big.
“We know Mercedes obviously in the last two years has built a very, very strong and solid platform for the whole package, not just the engine, but also the car – it has been very strong, particularly last year and I think it is quite difficult to start the season with a worse car than you had before.
“We know the bar is high, but we are pushing, pushing very hard.”