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'Merc v Ferrari will be close'

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 26-03-2016
Getty © Provided by BSkyB Getty

F1 is poised for more "exciting" duels between Mercedes and Ferrari in 2016, according to Niki Lauda. 

The anticipated battle between last year's two top teams materialised at last weekend's season-opener in Australia with arguably only a mistaken tyre call from Ferrari denying the Scuderia a first Melbourne win in nine years.

Although Mercedes still finished first and second, Sebastian Vettel led for over half the race and Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene insisted afterwards "we were there - this is the news".

And Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, is not expecting the Ferrari threat to diminish over the following 20 races.

"I'm afraid we'll see more of this because Ferrari is quick. There's no question about it," said Lauda.

"It's going to be exciting, so I look forward to the next one."

The second race of the season takes place in Bahrain on April 3 and last year Ferrari, aided by late-race braking problems for their rivals, managed to split the Mercedes drivers in the floodlit race.

Writing in his latest column, Sky F1 analyst Mark Hughes suggests Ferrari have cause for further optimism heading into next weekend.

"Essentially, the Ferrari was around 0.5s per lap more competitive in Bahrain qualifying than it had been in Australia," Hughes wrote in reference to 2015.

"If (an important if) the switch of tracks finds the same benefit for Ferrari this time around, it would suggest a Mercedes qualifying advantage in Bahrain of no more than 0.3s.

"Different season, different cars, but the patterns and traits of performance between the two cars does seem quite similar this year to last.

"A Ferrari that can get to within 0.3s of a Mercedes in qualifying might very well be able to match its pace on race day."

Arrivabene acknowledges Ferrari's race pace does look particularly impressive, but insists they must keep working hard to ensure the SF16-H continues to pose a genuine threat to Mercedes.

"The pace in the race is very good. The car is very good," he said. "But we don't have to give up. We need to continue to push because every race has its own story.

"So we need to turn the page and look forward and to think about the next one to do, not what we have done [in Australia], but even better for Bahrain."

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