SHANGHAI, China -- At the conclusion of pre-season testing in Barcelona, the general consensus was that Ferrari had a significant pace advantage over the rest of the field.
The SF-90 looked to be the benchmark car with both one-lap and long run pace, and with that, Ferrari became the clear favourites to land a first championship title since 2008.
However, all that promise hasn't counted for much and on the cusp of the third race of the season, the Scuderia is still searching for its first win. Meanwhile, Mercedes has skipped away out front in the constructors' championship with back-to-back one-two finishes in Australia and Bahrain.
On Saturday, Sebastian Vettel qualified third fastest for the Chinese Grand Prix, 0.301s down on Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas who secured a seventh pole position of his career. The four-time world champion says things haven't quite panned out as they had expected.
"We started off well in Barcelona and everything was really strong," Vettel said. "Since then, I think we have struggled a little bit to repeat that. I'm not happy.
"Obviously you try and drive around the problems and try to set up the car differently. Maybe some [issues] are related to different tracks, which Barcelona doesn't show, because it's different. The car is strong so it's up to us to extract the performance."
The opening race of the season in Australia was a shocker for Ferrari with neither Vettel nor teammate Charles Leclerc ever in the hunt for victory.
Last time out in Bahrain Ferrari looked far more competitive and Leclerc claimed his maiden pole position from Vettel to make it an all Ferrari front row. However, they were unable to capitalize in the race. Vettel was forced into an extra pit-stop after spinning and losing his front wing, while Leclerc was robbed of victory after an engine cylinder on his car failed in the dying stages.
"The past two races, we had little issues here and there," Vettel said. "Bahrain didn't go my way. Saturday was not bad, we had a small problem, otherwise it would have been better. Sunday, struggling in the first stint as much as in Australia in the second stint."
Despite the frustration at how the season has panned out thus far, Vettel says it's pleasing to find some small gains.
"We were able to improve the car from where it was yesterday, so I'm reasonably happy with that," Vettel said. "I think there was a little bit more [available today] but it's important if we can't beat them to be right behind them."