BARCELONA • Ferrari newcomer Charles Leclerc has played down talk of his team being faster already than Formula One champions Mercedes and said he suspected rivals were hiding their true pace.
Speaking after Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas told reporters on Thursday that Ferrari looked like they were a step ahead in pre-season testing, Leclerc suggested appearances were deceptive.
"The performance has no sense for now," the 21-year-old from Monaco said on the final day of the first test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. "It remains testing and they are probably not pushing and we are not either."
"We don't how much the others are sandbagging," he added, referring to the pretence of being weaker than is actually the case.
He also insisted that he does not worry about the pressure which is about to engulf him as he attempts to help the fabled Italian team break an F1 title drought which has now stretched beyond a decade.
He is replacing Kimi Raikkonen, who was the last man to win a drivers' title with Ferrari in 2007.
But, having set the fastest time in his No. 16 car on the second day of the first week of testing, Leclerc shrugged off the expectations of a campaign which will see him partner four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
"I try not to think about it. It's very important for me to focus on myself, on the job I have to do on and off the track with the engineers, without really thinking about what people expect of me off the track," he said.
"Since I got on the track, I have done some really good work, I tried to put any emotion to one side."
But he admitted it was a challenge to make the step up from mid-grid Sauber, where he made his debut last year, to Ferrari.
Ferrari can boast of 15 drivers' crowns and 16 constructors' titles, the last of which came in 2008.
But he believes that Ferrari have the tools and the drivers to shatter Mercedes' iron-grip on the sport.
"I think we have a strong car. But, in terms of comparison to direct competition, including Mercedes, I think we will only really know at the first race," he said of the March 17 Melbourne opener.
As the first week of testing came to an end, it was Nico Hulkenberg who was the fastest overall in his Renault on Thursday.
Bottas and his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, the five-time world champion, were sixth and seventh respectively.
Bottas had said Ferrari looked "very strong" after they lapped fastest on the first two days.
"We feel at this point Ferrari are maybe a bit ahead but, obviously, it's impossible (now) to make detailed calculations," said the Finn.
He added that the cars would be very different in Melbourne, with new parts coming.
Mercedes, chasing a record sixth successive title double this season, have said they intend to focus more on speed and performance at next week's second test after mainly concentrating on reliability until now.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE