MONACO • Ferrari are giving Sebastian Vettel the Michael Schumacher treatment, according to the German's main title rival, Lewis Hamilton.
After Vettel handed Ferrari their first Monaco Grand Prix win in 16 years on Sunday, the Briton said that the Italian team were clearly favouring the championship leader over team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finn, the 2007 world champion, had started on pole but, as a result of strategy, was relegated to the support role in their first one-two since 2010 instead of standing atop the podium.
"It's clear to me that Ferrari have chosen their No. 1 driver," said Hamilton, who finished seventh and is now 25 points behind Vettel in the championship race. "They are pushing everything to make sure Sebastian will maximise all of his weekends.
"It's very hard for the leading car to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car, so that is very clear."
Schumacher, the sport's most successful driver, who won five of his seven titles with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, famously built a team around him and was seen as the clear No. 1 at Maranello.
Mercedes themselves, knowing that Ferrari are making a strong run for the drivers' title as well as the constructors' championship this season, changed their stance on team orders in response to Vettel's pace before the Russian Grand Prix last month.
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda had said that if one driver was holding the other up, he had to let the quicker one past.
This stance was a reflection of their drivers' actions in the Bahrain race two weeks earlier, when Hamilton's hopes of victory were hampered by being stuck behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas while the Finn was struggling for pace.
This allowed Vettel to pull out a six-second lead after the first round of pit stops - the exact margin by which he won the race.
On Sunday, Hamilton had started 13th after a nightmare in qualifying, when he was unable to get his car's tyres performing in the requisite window. He ended seventh, with Bottas, who won in Russia, fourth.
Despite the setback, Hamilton, who has won only two races this season to Vettel's three, saw the glass as half full. "I really am happy," he said. "Of course ultimately I lost a lot of points but I came here starting 13th. I could have been in a crash, could have damaged the car, blown an engine, come away with no points.
"Of course I can't afford another weekend like this, with the Ferraris quick. But because you can't afford something doesn't mean it is not going to happen (beat the Ferraris in the constructors' championship)."
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff conceded that his team are now the underdogs.
"Inconsistency has been following us through the season, and on the opposite side Ferrari put the car on track in Barcelona and they were quick from the get-go," he said.
"So yes, we are the underdog and we need to catch up. This is the new reality at the moment."