Vettel added: "I expect them to be very strong tomorrow (in qualifying), but I hope it is going to be close. There's a great energy about the team". The main reason was Mercedes' tactical blunder, which saw them staying out during the Virtual Safety Car while everyone else behind them dove in for a stop. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - 93 6.
Vettel leads Hamilton by one point after nine of 21 races thanks to the Briton's misfortune in Austria.
Hamilton appeared humble at the news conference Thursday in contrast to the emotions he showed four days earlier when he realized he wouldn't finish in Austria.
The action kicked off with Sauber's Marcus Ericsson the first man to take to the race track, followed by a heavy field of runners anxious to sample the track's new asphalt. "I think that obviously Mercedes has got so used to being at the front, qualifying on the front row, and any at race that they are not on the podium it is disastrous".
Asked about the penalty ahead of this weekend's British Grand Prix, Vettel said the FIA's desire to deliver consistent punishments has led to too much scrutiny of every on-track incident.
Hamilton, who is bidding for a record sixth win at his home race, had it all his only way in the opening session after he led Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes one-two.
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"It's been a really incredible journey since 2007", Hamilton said of his debut season, when he finished third in Silverstone. "If in two years' time we still feel the same about each other, have trust, I think it would be clear that we continue". Not many drivers can do that. Carlos said it was no problem and he completely understood, he was very chilled, and I still ended up with a penalty.
Williams Sergey Sirotkin was the first driver of the weekend to visit the gravel traps, the Russian having a spin at Club corner.
Hamilton was hit with a five-place penalty in Bahrain following an unscheduled gearbox change.
"Frédéric Vasseur told me that when Lewis was in GP2 he was the only young driver that when he got out of the vehicle said: "You don't need to look at the data as my driving was not good". It might not be a race victory for Mercedes - I think that Ferrari update is working pretty well round here" - Anthony Davidson.
Vettel was not given a warning about Sainz closing in on him over team radio, but said he still has full confidence in his team.
Hamilton also revealed that he is planning to travel to Russian Federation to see the World Cup final next weekend.