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Formula One: Testing indicates Ferrari may be ready to challenge Mercedes

As preseason training draws to a close, there are indications that Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari may be capable of challenging Mercedes in 2017. Vettel's teammate, though, was the fastest on the last day of training.

Finnish Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen smashed German teammate Sebastian Vettel's best time in preseason testing at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya by nearly half a second, dominating Friday's morning session.

Raikkonen came within three tenths a second of the track record, posting a lap time of 1 minute 18.634 seconds, the fastest time of the day by nearly a second.

Vettel's best time of 1 minute 19.024 seconds on Thursday had already raised hopes that Ferrari, who haven't won a drivers' title since Raikkonen did so in 2007, may be capable of bringing an end to three years of dominance by Mercedes.

'Favorite' role rejected

However, Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull Racing between 2010 and 2013, has played down such speculation.

"I think if you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, if you look historically how slow they were going in the test, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races...I think they're the ones to beat," the German said on Thursday.

However, Mercedes' No. 1 driver, Lewis Hamilton, who won two of the team's three consecutive titles, did his best to cast Ferrari in the role of favorites.

 "I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing," said the Briton who lost the battle for last year's drivers' title to his now-retired teammate, Nico Rosberg - despite having won 10 races in 2016. "They're very close to us. It's difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker. But they are very close, if not faster."

Dutch  youngster Max Verstappen was second fastest in Friday's morning session, as Red Bull again provided evidence that they could be set to emerge as the third power behind Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017.

'No reliability and no power'

It was another tough day for Fernando Alonso and McLaren though, as the two-time world champion's car broke down with the same electrical problems that saw Stoffel Vandoorne stop twice on Thursday.

Alonso did manage to get in 19 laps but was again relegated to last among the 10 drivers on the timesheets. Both Alonso and Vandoorne have suffered though several stoppages and a lack of speed throughout testing. Earlier this week Alonso described his McLaren, which is powered by a Honda engine, as having "no reliability and no power."

The Formula One season opens with the Australian Open in Melbourne on March 26. 

pfd/dv (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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