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Ferrari hoping new engine can break domination

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If Mercedes are again quicker at Catalunya, the writing will be on the wall for Ferrari.

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Lewis Hamilton is favourite to win the Spanish Grand Prix for a fourth time, and third in a row, on Sunday and retake the world championship lead from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

But Ferrari have another script in mind for a race seen as something of a litmus test for their title prospects.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc dominated pre-season testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya amid talk of Ferrari ending Mercedes’ five-year stranglehold.

They return reeling from four successive Mercedes one-two finishes – an unprecedented start to a season by any team – and hoping an engine upgrade, brought forward by two races, will swing things their way.

If Mercedes are again quicker at Catalunya, where the champions have won four times in the last five years, the writing will be on the wall for Ferrari.

Both teams have been talking up the other’s chances.

“The last four races, on average, we were not quite there so I think we are not the favourites going to Barcelona,” said Vettel, winner with Red Bull in 2011, after finishing third in Azerbaijan.

Team principal Mattia Binotto agreed: “Obviously Mercedes are very strong at the moment. I’m pretty sure they will be very strong as well in Barcelona.”

Mercedes principal Toto Wolff dismissed Vettel’s portrayal of Ferrari as underdogs for the first race of the European season.

“The results seem to paint a relatively clear picture, but the truth is that they’re too flattering. The performance has fluctuated in the first four races,” said the Austrian.

“Our opponents were blisteringly quick in winter testing, so the Spanish Grand Prix will be anything but easy.”

Bottas leads five-time world champion Hamilton by a single point, with both men on two wins, by virtue of the Finn’s fastest lap in the Australian season opener.

Barcelona has also been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull, Max Verstappen becoming the sport’s youngest winner there in 2016.

“It is always a special one for me,” said the 21-year-old. “The temperatures will be a bit different (to testing in March) and everyone is bringing new parts to their cars, so it will be interesting to see how competitive we can be.”