Sebastian Vettel tips Mercedes to win Australian Grand Prix
Four-time world champion says his Red Bull team have had problems in the lead-up to the Melbourne race, but will bounce back soon
Agence France-Presse in Melbourne
Four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel yesterday tipped Mercedes to win Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix - but he warned Red Bull would soon recover from their preseason problems.
Vettel dominated last year, winning the last nine GPs, but the German was not optimistic about his chances in Melbourne after severe problems in testing as Red Bull adapt to a raft of technical changes.
But he said the Austrian team, led by their design guru Adrian Newey, would soon be back in the hunt as the season unfolds.
"For this race probably Mercedes based on winter testing," the German said, when asked who would win the season opener. "For the season, after three or four races we'll know a little bit more.
"Our testing and preparation hasn't been ideal and we are not in the best position for this race, but there's a long way to go.
"It's obviously a tough step for all the teams and the drivers, there's a lot of new regulations to get used to. We know we're not in the best shape yet.
"There's a lot of things we need to solve and, unfortunately, you can't solve them overnight."
Vettel is bidding to emulate compatriot Michael Schumacher's five consecutive world titles for Ferrari from 2000-2004, and would set a record if he can win his 10th race in a row.
Despite Red Bull's difficulties in integrating a new engine, he is far from putting up the white flag and insisted he would "push to the maximum" in Sunday's race.
"The target for sure is to finish in the best possible position."
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, is the pre-race favourite and he appeared to be sizing up teammate Nico Rosberg as his big rival.
"It's very technical this year and everyone is in the same boat and everyone is trying to see where the advantage is going to be between the two drivers," he said, referring to Rosberg.
"From race to race, I think you're going to see one time he's ahead, and another time I'm ahead, the same that you saw last year. The goal is to be ahead on the track."
Ferrari are also feeling their way after inconclusive winter testing, but with a super-competitive driving team in former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.
"It's very difficult to tell how competitive we are at the moment and we will know some answers in the next 24 to 48 hours," said Spanish driver Alonso.
"I think the car itself and the technology that Formula One has brought this year is a little complex for everyone and we are learning and developing the car every day."
The F1 cars take to Melbourne's Albert Park circuit today for the first of two practice sessions ahead of tomorrow's qualifying for grid positions for Sunday's race.