Ferrari expect 'very close' Merc battle
"I think it would be completely wrong to think we are faster than them," says Ferrari chief Binotto despite Hamilton's claims
Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto has denied Lewis Hamilton's claims that his team have a significant advantage over Mercedes heading into the F1 2019 season.
Hamilton, before setting a time within 0.003s Sebastian Vettel's benchmark in the Ferrari at F1 Testing, claimed Mercedes had a "half-a-second" gap to make up before the first race of the year in Australia.
Binotto, however, insists he is not expecting to be ahead of the five-time world champions, saying it would be "completely wrong" to think Ferrari are quicker.
"I'm happy to know that Hamilton believes we are faster, but I believe they are very strong," the Scuderia's new team principal told reporters.
"I believe that Mercedes will be very, very strong in Australia, and I think it would be completely wrong to think we are faster than them.
"I'm not expecting them to be behind us. I think they will be very, very close."
'Ferrari still have a lot of work to do'
Ferrari were highlighted as 2019's early frontrunners from the very start of the winter test by most of the paddock - and the Scuderia did enjoy a fine two weeks, finishing with the fastest time and only completing fewer laps than Mercedes.
But they also ran into reliability issues during Test Two, missing large chunks of running due to a exhaust and electrical issues, while a 'foreign object' caused a wheel rim failure that led to a Vettel crash.
"I think that we did a lot of work but I'm not pleased with where we are at the moment," added Binotto. "We would like to be faster and we would like to be more reliable. So there is still much to do.
"I'm pleased to think that the car performs as expected as the starting point, but I know as well there are many issues to be addressed and performance to be pushed forward.
"I will not be pleased today. Certainly the fact that the car is running properly is a good starting point, but that's it."
He continued: "Our programme hasn't always ran as we were hoping. I feel that we are are not yet ready for Melbourne - I think most of the tasks are still to be done."
Vettel ready for title challenge
Vettel has a new young team-mate in Charles Leclerc this year and is expected to spearhead Ferrari's championship charge.
Ferrari, Formula 1's most historic and successful team, haven't won a title in over a decade and fell away in the previous two seasons.
"We have all the ingredients, for sure," Vettel said. "At some stages in previous years, maybe we didn't put things 100% together. There's always room for improvement but I think we have something to build on.
"We know what to do, we know how to do it. There's a lot of races and challenges that will come up, and even if we find ourselves in a good position now, it's still a long way and a lot of time."