BARCELONA, Spain -- Sebastian Vettel says it is crucial Ferrari does not "get distracted" by lap times set in winter and insists Mercedes is still the team it has to beat in 2017.
Vettel turned in a 1:19.024 on the ultra-soft tyres -- Ferrari's first use of the softest in Pirelli's range all winter -- to lead the order at lunch on Thursday, the penultimate day of pre-season testing. The lap time was 0.3s up on Lewis Hamilton's best on the same tyre, adding to mounting excitement about Ferrari's SF70-H and its chances in 2017.
Speaking at lunch shortly after that lap, Vettel was quick to remind the media that headline times can be misleading at this stage of the season.
When told his time had caused excitement and speculation Ferrari could be the team to beat, Vettel replied: "It's the first time I hear, so maybe I'm not speaking to everybody! I think we are focusing on our stuff, that is important, there's a lot of stuff on our list.
"We are still probably a little bit behind so a lot of stuff to do [on our schedule] and a lot of boxes to be ticked and then Melbourne we will see, Melbourne is a very special type of track but still we've learned in the past that Barcelona is important to give an indication.
"For sure the car is much better than last year because the nature of [Formula One] has changed but so far I think things are making sense but it's still early days. If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, if you look at historically how slow they were going in the test, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races... They are the ones to beat, for us. It doesn't matter exactly where we are now, we are growing, we need to work hard, we know that we have to improve, that's why it's important not to get distracted right now."
Vettel's lap time vindicated the belief that times could drop into the 1:18 range before the end of testing as teams continue to push Pirelli's new, wider 2017 tyres. On his quickest lap he went purple in the first two sectors before setting a slower final sector -- though he feels that still should be expected from the new tyres.
"It's the typical Barcelona, in the last sector you would always like to have more grip, first couple of corners always feel great with a fresh set and then the last couple you start to slide a bit, by the nature of the track as well. If you compare to last year it's a different dimension and it makes a lot more sense, and for us inside the car it's nicer as we can play more, we can push more - it's more driving, I would say.
"[A slower final sector] is not always intentional. In the end we are trying to run through our programme, sometimes you go a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower, but I think you could see this morning what we were trying to do - we were going faster than the rest of the week and last week. So it's pretty clear. I feel pretty happy inside the car but it's still early days. It doesn't really matter here, if you look at one single lap time ... You need to look at more than that."