Melbourne: Lewis Hamilton on Sunday said Ferrari can challenge Mercedes this year despite posting a whopping 34-second gap over the team Italian team to win the Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton had a 58-lap duel with Nico Rosberg before taking the chequered flag by just 1.360secs from his team-mate, his 34th triumph and Mercedes` eighth win in a row.
But Sebastian Vettel lifted spirits in the Ferrari garage with his third-place finish on debut for the team, since switching from Red Bull where he won four world titles.
Although the gap was huge between the Mercedes pair and Vettel, Hamilton said he anticipated some battles this season with Ferrari`s Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
"I have not seen the times and everything, but I think the Ferraris have taken a huge step forward," Hamilton said.
"Clearly they`ve made one of the biggest steps and so we can definitely cannot back off because I anticipate we might have a good fight with them at some stage this year."
Rosberg went further, saying he was hoping the gap would narrow between the two rival teams and set up some fierce battles for honours this season.
"I hope we can have a good fight with them, that would be awesome," Rosberg said.
"In the next couple of races we are going to be leading the way and we are going to try and keep it that way.
"But we know it will be good if they can come a bit closer, as long as they don`t come too close."
That brought a riposte from fellow German Vettel at the post-race media conference, querying if Rosberg actually meant what he was saying.
"You really hope so? You finish 30 seconds ahead of us and you really hope it`s going to be closer, so you hope you slow down," Vettel laughed.
He added: "I have suggestion if you don`t mind that your garage becomes public for Malaysia and everyone can have a look, no? .. I`m joking."
Given the dominance of Mercedes, who ran away with last year`s constructors title by almost 300 points, there is keen interest in the battle for the scraps between Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull.
Ferrari lost the chance for more points from the season-opener when Raikkonen was forced out on lap 42 after a botched pitstop by his team.
Replays showed a mechanic on the left-rear corner waving as Raikkonen left the pits, indicating the wheel was not properly attached, and he was instructed over the team radio to stop on his out-lap.