SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- Lewis Hamilton is convinced Mercedes is in the mix with Ferrari at the Belgian Grand Prix despite his team's significant disadvantage in engine power.
Ferrari has not won a race yet in 2019 but Spa is the first of two races at power-sensitive circuits. The Italian team is expected to be strongest this weekend and it stayed true to form on Friday.
Charles Leclerc capped an impressive opening day for Ferrari, finishing 0.6 seconds quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel and almost a full second clear of the nearest Mercedes. The red cars' advantage came in the first and third sector, made up primarily of long straights, while Mercedes clawed back lap time through the more twisty middle sector.
"I don't know about the gaps, obviously the Ferraris are quite quick, they're like a second quicker than us just in a straight line down to Turn 5," Hamilton said Friday. "That's quite impressive, but we'll just keep chipping away at it. We're clearly up in the mix, which is a good thing."
When told how far behind Leclerc he was, Hamilton said: "That sounds terrible! But it's practice. We definitely don't have even half of that to catch, so I'm not sure where the time is lost.
"I'm hopeful. All that time is on the straights generally. There's not a lot we can do to generally catch that up. They've always been quick all year long on the straights, so I kind of had a feeling this weekend would work really well for them."
Although Hamilton expects Ferrari to be too strong in qualifying trim, he is confident from what the data was showing from the comparative long-run pace, which usually gives a good indicator of how the race might unfold.
"We just kind of have to somehow apply the pressure another way, if we don't have it on pure pace. I think the long run was very strong. I'm about to find out now, but I was told Vettel's times.
"He was in the high-50s I think, 51, mid-51s, and I was in the low-to-mid 50s on the long runs. So it will be interesting to know what fuel and tyre life that we had. "
"That will be interesting to see. If we're quick in the race, that could be good."
In a year which has seen Ferrari fail to live up to preseason expectations, it has often taken a cautious approach to predicting how race weekends might unfold. Vettel was refusing to get carried away with one strong day and said it would be foolish to write off Mercedes.
When asked if Mercedes could catch up, he said: "Of course they can. It's not the first time that Ferrari looked good for us. Probably Saturday morning [final practice] will look good for us and then we will see what happens on Saturday afternoon [qualifying]. I'm not taking anything for granted."
Leclerc was singing from the same hymn sheet, pointing to how hooked up the Mercedes car looked through the middle part of the circuit, which relies less on outright engine power.
"In the second sector they are very, very strong and tomorrow they will turn up the engine and they won't be that bad in the first and final sectors."