BARCELONA • Lewis Hamilton claimed Ferrari were camouflaging their true pace, after fellow former world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel blitzed the competition in posting by far the fastest times in Formula One pre-season testing over the past two days.
Vettel clocked 1min 19.024sec around a sun-kissed Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on Thursday, despite appearing to ease off in the third sector of his fastest lap.
Hamilton was three-tenths slower on the same ultra-soft tyre compound used by the German. Finn Raikkonen then smashed his team-mate's time by posting 1min 18.634sec to dominate the morning session of the final day of testing yesterday.
"I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing," said the Englishman.
Mercedes have dominated for the past three seasons, with Hamilton and now-retired world champion Nico Rosberg winning all but two of 21 races last year.
However, despite his scepticism, Hamilton does expect to be pushed all the way by Ferrari when the new 20-race season begins on March 26.
"It's difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker," he added. "They are very close, if not faster.
"Whatever the case, I can't wait to go out and compete. Just a couple more weeks to go."
But Vettel insisted that Mercedes remain the firm favourites for both the drivers' and constructors' titles. "If you look at how many laps Mercedes have done; look at historically how slow they go in testing, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races, then it's clear," he said.
"They are very fast with their long run pace. They're the ones to beat."
McLaren's miserable preparation for the season, which gets under way in Melbourne in a fortnight, continued as electrical issues saw Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne stop twice out on the track.
He completed just 48 laps, as McLaren and their problematic Honda engine were once again left at the back of the paddock in terms of mileage completed. However, McLaren executive director Zak Brown rejected rumours that the British team could look to break ties with Honda.
"We have a long-term contract," he told Sky Sports. "We have won a lot of championships with them, they have the right people, we have the right people, so we are going to work through it together."
However, double world champion Fernando Alonso was critical of McLaren's engine partners on Wednesday, telling Spanish reporters that everyone in the team was ready to win "apart from Honda".
Seconds Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was slower than Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in Thursday's testing.
"We have only one problem, that is the power unit. There is no reliability and there is no power," said the Spaniard, who will be out of contract at the end of the season and has not done much test mileage.
His concerns, however, were dismissed by Brown.
"We've been given assurances from Honda that they are going to do everything they can to give us the best power unit possible," said Brown.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS