Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes is wary of Ferrari because it produced some “incredible times” during pre-season testing.

Mercedes’ impressive reliability and pace on the soft compound tyre caught the eye during the two tests in Barcelona, although Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time of pre-season and was also able to match Nico Rosberg’s soft tyre lap. Speaking at Mercedes’ 2016 season kickoff event, Hamilton said the times posted by Ferrari leaves him expecting a close fight all season.

“Honestly, I think we are going to have a real battle and Ferrari has really picked up its game,” Hamilton said. “That’s my opinion. It’s still difficult to know, the car is good, but Ferrari was strong towards the end of last year and I think they have made a significant improvement from last year to this year.

“They did some incredible times at the last test in some of their long runs and I believe they didn’t bring an upgrade to any of the test days, so I imagine they will bring a good package to the first race. I think you are going to see a good fight, which is what I want and we want in the sport. I’m excited about that.”

Team boss Toto Wolff agreed with Hamilton, saying it was not Ferrari’s headline lap times which have worried Mercedes.

“Trying to assess after testing is always tricky, but what I can say is that the car looks good and we had huge reliability,” Wolff said. “We achieved all the mileage targets we had hoped for and performance wise we should be among the top teams.

“Ferrari looked equally good and there were some interesting laps in their long-run simulation and also on the single laps that gives us an indication that their car is very fast as well.

“But it’s like the famous saying, on Saturday and on Sunday when the flag drops the bullshit stops. By then we will know whether we are good enough for another championship and good enough for race victories or not.”

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