Sebastian Vettel insisted Thursday that Ferrari’s team spirit remained strong despite rival Mercedes reeling off an unprecedented four straight season-opening one-twos.

The four-time champion German admitted that the Italian outfit had struggled in the opening races after looking so strong in pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. But he said he expected to see the car and team bounce back to their best on returning to the track for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

“The car was really good in testing,” he told reporters at a news conference.

“Then we arrived in Australia and struggled to feel the same and the first four races have been up and down. Deep down, we know the car is strong. And the spirit is as good or better than last year.

“We’re in good shape and we’re confident about the parts we bring here,” he added, referring to a new upgraded power unit and other upgrades to be introduced this weekend.

“This weekend will be interesting for us because we had a good feeling here not so long ago – so it will be interesting to see how it behaves this weekend. I’m confident if we can get to the level, we will be very competitive.”

Teammate Charles Leclerc also insisted that the picture is not as bleak as it may appear.

The Monegasque racer, whose huge potential has yet to be rewarded with a maiden victory in Formula One, said he did not think Mercedes’ dominance was a true reflection of their respective team performances.

“I don’t think it is as bad as the championship looks,” Leclerc said. “We have had opportunities, once I did a mistake, on the other one we had an issue that cost us a better result.

“I think overall the performance is there – we just need to try and put everything together, in most of the occasions, to be using our full potential.”

Ferrari come back to the Circuit de Catalunya knowing they are 74 points adrift of their rivals and in real need of stopping them reeling off a record fifth consecutive one-two in Sunday’s race.

“You know, I don’t think that Mercedes were that far behind us in the testing here in Barcelona. It was only on the final day that they pushed and then they did lap time,” added Leclerc.

“So I don’t think they were ever very far away – and we don’t even know how much they pushed on the last day of testing.

“So, it’s not right to say that we were a long way ahead after testing.”