Sebastian Vettel believes the 2016 Formula 1 season played a key role in the performances put on by Ferrari in 2017 and 2018 so far.

Despite the Italian manufacturer finishing behind Mercedes and Red Bull Racing in 2016, Vettel regards that season for the turnaround seen in 2017 and 2018 so far where they are being praised for matching Mercedes engine if not going better than them.

“I think 2016 was a key year for us,” he said ahead of Italian GP at Monza. “Obviously, it wasn’t great in terms of performance, especially after 2015 where we finished second in the constructors’.

“You naturally want to be closer, a lot closer and we were not [in 2016]. We lost a place [to Red Bull]. But I think in terms of setting ourselves up for the future 2016 was the most important year so far – at least since I’m with the team.

“Obviously 2017 we had a rule change that helped us to use that restructuring in general that’s been going on. Since then we have been able to improve on all fronts. Whether it’s the car, the development throughout the season to keep the pace up; whether it’s engine power and its components.

“So, I think things are going in the right direction but I think the opponent that we had years ago was very, very strong, still is very, very strong but you know it’s good to see we are getting stronger and, in some areas, maybe caught up.

“In some other areas maybe have a little bit of an edge. In the end that’s where we want to be – and beyond that. I think that’s our ambition: to be up there and to be at least on the level so we can fight for it and to keep that level throughout the year.

“If there’s a gap then to increase that gap. I think that things are looking in the right way but saying that, we still have a lot of things that we can improve, and still have potential that can be unleashed, a lot of processes that I think can be improved, so we have to work and focus on those and go step-by-step,” he explained.

After the grand prix in Belgium, Vettel felt proud for the praise Ferrari received for its engine especially since the dominance from Mercedes for the last five seasons. With the car, it is widely expected for Ferrari and Vettel to finally get the championship win.

However, Vettel is not overthinking about the title chances just yet while Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen reckons the pressure is not so much high to win the titles but to perform well as a team on the whole.

“We know our car is best and I think we have a lot of people on board telling us how good our car is on which point of the track, at which point of the year, similar to other teams. I think we know what’s going on,” said Vettel. “We know we have a great car.

“I think we have a good car that seems to have worked so far on more or less every track. Some better, some a little but worse but I think we are aware we have a good package but we cannot rest on that. I think we need to make it happen.

“Kimi and myself in the car, all the engineering crew at the track, everybody back in Maranello to try to put everything together. So, I don’t think you can compare to maybe the position other people have been in years ago.

“It doesn’t matter, I’m also not keen to compare because we’re looking forwards and we want to do our thing. As I said, looking forward to getting in the car. It’s a great feeling when you step inside the car and you know that you can fight for first position, for the podium, for victory on Sunday.

“That’s what you want as a driver but for the rest I think it’s healthy not to overthink.” Raikkonen added: “I don’t think there’s any more pressure. I think all the pressure is that we want to do well: ourselves; our team.

“So that’s normal pressure that we put unto ourselves and something that we want to achieve. So, I don’t know. Is our package best? One weekend yes, next might not be. It’s that close that small differences will dictate who’s fastest over that weekend.

“If you don’t get everything right, you might not win. So, it’s very close. Certain conditions; certain circuits, one is a bit better for one team and the next one for the other team. We’re talking small differences in the end result.”