MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (Reuters) - Four times Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel hopes Ferrari can become the strongest challengers to Mercedes this season after failing to win a race last year.
Vettel, who moved from Red Bull at the end of last year, said on Thursday it could take some time for it to happen however.
"It depends how strong and dominant Mercedes will start into the season," said the German, speaking at a sponsor event. "It is expected that they will be very strong. But for the pack behind them it will be very tense."
"I hope that we are there and establish ourselves in the mid to long term this season as the second force. That would be a huge step forward."
Mercedes' double world champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are widely expected to dominate again this year with the Briton winning 11 races and his team mate five last season.
The 'Silver Arrows' have looked ominous in testing ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15.
McLaren's Fernando Alonso will be absent from Australia on doctors' orders, with the Spaniard still recovering from his crash in testing in Barcelona last month.
Alonso spent three nights in hospital last week after losing control and hitting the wall in testing in Barcelona on Feb. 22.
"I was directly behind him but still too far away to clearly see how the accident happened. I only saw the end of it," Vettel said.
"The crash did not look that dramatic. Obviously it was a shock to hear that he lost consciousness in the first moments and that he unfortunately suffered a concussion. But thank God it was not worse."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Alan Baldwin)