BAHRAIN, UAE - Nobody in the Formula 1 paddock doubts that Mercedes is significantly ahead of the game as the March 16 2014 season-opener looms but when told he was "an absolute favourite" works driver Lewis Hamilton clearly did not want the label to stick.He furrowed his brow as he answered: "Why do you believe that?"At the very least, the Briton admitted, the German squad has produced the very best new V6 engine when compared to rival suppliers Ferrari and troubled Renault.MASSA IS THE MAN?Hamilton told F1's official website: "You have Williams, which looks like it could be a competitive team, and you have Force India which could be much further ahead. Maybe Felipe Massa will take the Williams to the front...!"Niki Lauda, Mercedes' team chairman, confirmed Hamilton's estimation of the pecking order, with Ferrari "a little bit behind" and Renault "far away" from the pace. Even Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicali also thought the Mercedes-powered works team and its customer Williams were "better prepared" than Ferrari for Melbourne.Domenicali was quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport as saying: "I see us behind those two, but our car has a lot of development potential."POOR PERFORMANCE?Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger, watching trackside in Bahrain on March 2, hailed the progress made through the northern winter by Williams. "The team has stopped the downward trend. It made the right decision to go with the Mercedes engine and, with Massa and (Valtteri) Bottas, has a good mix of experience and youth - and Pat Symonds is a strong technical guy at the top."Their performance in testing was no accident."However, he thought Williams' superiority might not last. "In the long term I see McLaren and Ferrari more in the challenging role to Mercedes."But what about Red Bull, the reigning champion team, and the also Renault-powered Lotus? "You cannot rule out teams such as that," Williams' driver Massa was quoted as saying by Totalrace. "When it problems are solved, the team knows how to win races. It's nice to think Red Bull will be fighting with Caterham, but forget it."The team has a problem to solve and when it's solved will be there."For now, however, it is Massa who is 'there' as a genuine podium favourite for Melbourne. Lauda said: "As of now, our biggest enemy is from our own (Mercedes-powered) house."Massa was less forthright: "I'm really happy with how the tests have been with our speed and reliability but I see the Mercedes works team as slightly ahead of us."Best times on Sunday, final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing at the Sakhir Circuitmin1 Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1min33.278 (69 laps)2 Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams) 1min33.987 (108)3 Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 1min34.280 (74),4 Nico Hülkenberg (GER/Force India) 1min35.577 (74),5 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso) 1min35.701 (74),6 Adrian Sutil (GER/Sauber) 1min36.467 (91)7 Max Chilton (GBR/Marussia) 1min36.835 (61)8 Esteban Gutiérrez (MEX/Sauber) 1min37.303 (86)9 Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull) 1min37.468 (77)10 Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren) 1min38.111 (22)11 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Caterham) 1min38.391 (106)12 Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus) 1min39.302 (32)Best times of the four-day session1 Felipe Massa (BRA/Williams) 1min33.258 (202)2 Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1min33.278 (158)3 Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes) 1min33.484 (192)4 Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams) 1min33.987 (219)5 Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 1min34.280 (196)6 Sergio Pérez (MEX/Force India) 1min35.290 (199)7 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari) 1min35.426 (128)8 Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Force India) 1min35.577 (189)9 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso) 1min35.701 (135)10 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull) 1min35.743 (98),11 Kevin Magnussen (DEN/McLaren) 1min35.894 (197)12 Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Toro Rosso) 1min36.113 (137)13 Adrian Sutil (GER/Sauber) 1min36.467 (153)14 Max Chilton (GBR/Marussia) 1min36.835 (99)15 Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren) 1min36.901 (74)16 Jules Bianchi (FRA/Marussia) 1min37.087 (153)17 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX/Sauber) 1min37.303 (192)18 Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull) 1min37.468 (78)19 Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Caterham) 1min38.083 (172)20 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Caterham) 1min38.391 (123)21 Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus) 1min39.302 (65)22 Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Lotus) 1min40.599 (62)Number of laps per team1 Williams 421, 2 Force India 388, 3 Mercedes 350, 4 Ferrari 324, 5 Caterham 295, 6 Toro Rosso 272, 7 McLaren 271, 8 Marussia 252, 9 Sauber 245, 10 Red Bull 176, 11 Lotus 127 Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 F1 season – fresh reports every day.