SAKHIR, BAHRAIN (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel believes he and Ferrari will have to overcome a significant performance deficit to beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.
Despite his victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the four-time champion arrived in Bahrain on Thursday (April 5) to play down hopes that it will be a straightforward task to win again on Sunday (April 8).
"If you look at the pace in testing and at the first race, it's pretty clear that Mercedes is fastest, probably with a three- or fourth-tenths' gap," he said.
"That's what we saw in the race. Obviously, Lewis was controlling his pace in the beginning and then he pushed when he had to. He had time in hand. I think that's the fair answer."
Hamilton secured his 73rd career pole position in Melbourne with a luxurious advantage of six-tenths of a second ahead of Vettel's Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel, however, said he did not believe that was a representative lap time advantage. He said he felt the gap was bigger than it should have been.
"Overall, I think in qualifying the gap there looked a bit bigger than it probably should have been.
"I think if you look at the session again, it's pretty clear that in Q2 in particular Mercedes and Lewis didn't get the lap together and then in Q3 he did.
"And I think Max (Verstappen, of Red Bull) had a small mistake in Q3 and I had a small mistake so we should have been a bit closer."
"Ultimately," he added. "We need to have the pace to win and, as I said before, we have to look at ourselves and improve.
"I'm confident that we can. I think our car has potential, but we need to make progress and catch up quickly to fight for wins."
He added: "It's also a no-brainer that we're not quick enough yet and Mercedes is quicker.
"But we go racing. It's not that we live in simulation land and rely solely on numbers.
"We go racing, as you saw a couple of weeks ago, in Australia, as you saw many times over the past years.
"And that's the excitement of what we do - that you never really know what happens even if you have a guess."