Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes are rising to challenge posed by Ferrari

Mercedes admit Ferrari 'still ahead'

The latter leads Hamilton in the drivers' championship by 13 points with Bottas 10 points further back.

With Ferrari having won two of the year's first four races, Hamilton believes this weekend's actual deficit is less than that, and that both teams have found similar gains.

Ferrari and Mercedes may be the front-runners again, but Red Bull expect to be close in pursuit with a heavily-updated auto while local hero Fernando Alonso has more modest hopes.

The Russian Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday.

However, his Ferrari team-mate and the two Mercedes quickly surpassed him one by one with each setting the quickest time as they did so until Hamilton was on top once again.

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Last year's Spanish GP victor Max Verstappen was again ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, by one tenth and finishing 0.636s off Hamilton's best despite a scrappy session.

The top four were covered by half-a-second, whilst Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg were the only other drivers to finish within one second of Hamilton's benchmark. Sirotkin's showed problems early in the session and he had to return to the team box. "If it is not the case then I will be more than happy to talk to anyone". "It's definitively a step forward and that's good".

"The season will start new", he said. "It was OK but as I said, we can improve".

Haas are set to maintain their Brembo brakes package after a trial of the Carbone Industrie variety to satisfy Romain Grosjean, who hass felt a great imbalance in braking since joining the American team in their first campaign a year ago.

But by the end of turn two, the first proper corner on the track, it was Bottas who led the race after a flying start saw him overtake both Ferraris. "We're expecting some various new parts.but we can't really focus too much on performance until we have solved our reliability issues".

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Alonso, who will miss the Monaco Grand Prix later this month to participate at the Indianapolis 500, hitched a ride back to the pit lane on the back of a motorbike as his stricken McLaren was towed back to the garage.

Another Bottas win would not be a surprise at a venue that has a habit of producing more different winners than anywhere else - if he is successful, he will be the 11th different victor in as many years. "It's my home race".

Vettel did not want to talk up his early advantage over Hamilton, though he did insist all the pressure is on Mercedes to maintain their stranglehold on the sport. Raikkonen won the season-opener with Renault and Vettel won twice with Red Bull. Vettel went on to dominate, winning the last nine races to easily clinch the world title for the fourth time.

"I don't think there is a particular pattern yet", he said.

Mercedes has introduced a raft of upgrades for the first European round of the 2017 F1 season, including a more tapered nose, a re-designed shark "fin" and a "scooped duct".

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