Vettel fired up to return Ferrari to the top

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"We are not yet where we would like to be, not in terms of lap time but more in terms of vehicle feel and handling".

It was followed by this exchange between Vettel and Ricciardo that highlighted the spirited mood most drivers are in before the start of the season.

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton said it was "not hard to read" Mercedes' testing form, and insisted the team wasn't playing mind games with its pre-season estimations.

986 - Ricciardo is just 14 shy of 1,000 points in his Formula 1 career, and can surpass the figure with a podium finish; he would become just the second Australian to reach as many points in the sport (Mark Webber - 1047.5).

Vettel continued to remain bullish about Ferrari and its chances this season, saying they were ahead of where they had been past year after pre-season testing.

Vettel was fifth overall following his own trip across the grass at Turn 1 early on, and there was a sense of deja vu as he was closely followed by his former teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

"Maybe everyone else was struggling and then we can turn it around, but they looked very strong and much stronger than they claimed before the weekend".

"Emotions? To be honest, I've not really had a lot of time to think about them", he told reporters at Albert Park on Thursday. Since he last raced in 2010, a lot has changed in Formula One, so it will be a massive learning curve for the Polish driver.

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Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says it is unrealistic to expect Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari this season. "We will only see in qualifying where we are exactly".

Renault's Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were seventh and eighth, closely matched after the Australian had a tricky day with a number of delays, first due to a technical problem and then the need to adjust his seat to reduce discomfort in the vehicle.

7 - Lewis Hamilton has started from pole position seven times at the AusGP, more often than any other driver in this race (including five in the Hybrid Era).

"You never know - we could be quicker than we think", he said.

"I had nine days pretty much of no distraction since (the Italian Grand Prix at) Monza and it was time for me to put everything into it", Ricciardo said.

Kubica's inspiring comeback, eight years after a crash in a rally in Italy partially severed his right arm, has been a rare good news story for once formidable Williams.

But four-times champion Vettel painted a gloomier picture, saying his vehicle was not behaving like it had during testing.

The issue inevitably led to lost track time for Ricciardo.

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