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Lewis Hamilton set for Ferrari battle, says Mercedes have 'hill to climb'

Hamilton says Mercedes car "not optimal" and one step behind Ferrari; "It just means we've got to work harder," adds world champion

Lewis Hamilton has lauded Ferrari's work over the winter and believes Mercedes have a "hill to climb" in the F1 2019 title race.

Ferrari, who have pushed Mercedes close in the last two seasons, enjoyed a stellar Barcelona test and Hamilton even claimed the Italian outfit had a "half-a-second" advantage - though the world champion did defy his own prediction by all-but-matching Sebastian Vettel's pre-season best on the final day.

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But Hamilton is sure that Ferrari have made a big step with their SF90, while also insisting Mercedes' car has not been "performing optimal".

"Last year they arrived here with a car that was working well but they've done even better this year," the Englishman told reporters.

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Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton thinks Ferrari are ahead of the F1 pack after Testing

"That's OK. We don't mind a challenge, we like a fight - it just means we've got to work harder."

He continued: "We've got a hill to climb but we know how to do it."

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Hamilton also claims he has to extract more performance from himself if he is to retain his crown.

"As a driver, for sure, I have to think how I can pull more out," he said.

Lewis: Ferrari 'one step ahead'
Ferrari turned heads as soon as they arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya and immediately hit the ground running - both Vettel and new team-mate Charles Leclerc said the car was balanced, easy to drive and most importantly quick from the offset.

Mercedes, meanwhile, racked up more miles than any other team over the two weeks but didn't reveal their upgraded aero package until Test Two.

Though the Silver Arrows did reveal their impressive pace on the final day, with Hamilton claiming their close to the test was "very positive", he says Ferrari may have taken advantage of the new aerodynamic regulations better than Mercedes.

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"Of course there's a question mark on whether they have, or we have the right philosophy," Hamilton explained.

"We know the car has not been performing optimal in these two weeks and we might tweak it."

Towards the end of a detailed and intriguing media conference, Hamilton maintained his belief that Ferrari were "one step ahead" when looking ahead to the upgrades each team will bring in 2019.

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"It is a development race but I think I've got as strong a team as I could possibly have to fight that development battle," he continued.

"Naturally when you start two or three steps ahead, it's easier to keep at least one of those feet ahead throughout the year. But time will tell."

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