BARCELONA • Four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel believes he can end Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton's domination of the sport to land the Italian giants their first drivers' championship in nine years.
Vettel topped the time sheets yesterday morning as well as the first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Monday, with just under a month to go till the first race of the season in Australia on March 20.
He won the only three races not won by defending world champion Hamilton or his team-mate Nico Rosberg last season.
Indeed, Mercedes' dominance in winning 32 of 38 Grands Prix in the last two seasons has led to calls for rule changes to increase competition, while F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone claimed on Monday the sport is "the worst it has ever been".
However, Vettel is hopeful of pushing Hamilton and Rosberg all the way this season.
"Not just for the fans but for myself and the whole team we'd love to fight for the title until the very end and have a decent chance," the German said on Monday.
"Obviously last year we had a surprising year which was very good for us, especially for the atmosphere and motivation of the team, and hopefully we can carry that into this year. Naturally, if you finish second in the constructors' championship you want to make that final step. It would be great for us and everyone else bar Mercedes."
On new ultra-soft tyres yesterday, he had a flying lap of 1min 22:810sec.
However, once again Mercedes were arguably the most impressive performers as Rosberg completed 81 laps and went within 0.2 seconds of his qualifying lap to land pole position at the same circuit for last season's Spanish Grand Prix on slower medium tyres.
The Silver Arrows have prioritised miles over times early, but Rosberg also went nearly half a second quicker than Hamilton on his marathon 156-lap run on Monday. Vettel only managed 69 laps.
With six more days of testing to come before the season gets started, Mercedes' reliability has sent shockwaves round the paddock.
Vettel admitted he was slightly frustrated not to get more time on the track, but is confident the SF16-H is a significant improvement on last year's car.
"Generally it seems like a step up. I felt confident in the car straight away," he said. "There is a lot of work still to do, the result today is nice but it doesn't mean much. It is better to be first in about a month's time."