Two-time Formula One world champion Mika Hakkinen does not believe Lewis Hamilton will be in the hunt for this year’s title.
Hakkinen was left less than impressed by the speed of the cars of the Brackley-based Mercedes team following last week’s first pre-season test in Jerez.
Mercedes endured a wretched opening two days as Nico Rosberg managed just 14 laps before his car succumbed to an electrical fault, whilst Hamilton crashed after 15 laps following a rear brake failure.
However, on the third and fourth day, the Mercedes duo then completed almost 300 trouble-free laps between them to prove the car is reliable.
As for whether it has the speed to challenge this year, Hakkinen does not think so as he said: “With the first test you never really get a 100 per cent picture of exactly where the performance of the car is.
“It’s a bit too early. I believe at the next test in Barcelona (from Feb 19), that is going to be more interesting to see who is at the top of the list.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Hakkinen added: “I have a strong feeling McLaren are on top form this year.
“Mercedes were not exactly up to the speed I expected them to be, so I don’t see them competing too much this year.”
In contrast, Niki Lauda feels Mercedes can become a top-three team after witnessing Rosberg and Hamilton rack up the mileage.
Lauda, the non-executive chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd, said: “The cars are relatively close together.
“(Sebastian) Vettel is, in my judgment at the moment, the fastest. The car (Red Bull) works well, looks reliable.
“My joy is the Mercedes now can compete with the top three teams. “
Surprisingly, following in-depth analysis from the BBC’s technical expert Gary Anderson, the former Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar designer had Hamilton’s replacement at McLaren in Sergio Perez out in front.
Anderson studied lap times, the number of laps a car did on a run, and the tyres that were used at the time to correlate his data.
Anderson emerged with times which saw Perez out in front from the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, Rosberg and then Jenson Button in his McLaren, with Hamilton 11th quickest.
The surprise on Anderson’s list is the Red Bulls of Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber were only eighth and 14th fastest.