Formula One: Mercedes an awesome team, says Rosberg

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Nico Rosberg is in no doubt that Mercedes will continue to rule Formula One this year, starting with Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

The German finished runner-up to team-mate Lewis Hamilton in last year's drivers championship after winning the opening race around Melbourne's Albert Park street circuit.

While he accepts others are working hard to close the gap, Rosberg declared Mercedes the team to beat this weekend after improving both their chassis and engine in pre-season testing.

"We're looking good. We're very optimistic for this season," he told reporters.

"We just have an awesome team at the moment really." Rosberg acknowledged the strength of the rival teams but remained unequivocal.

"We are the best in F1 now. We have the best individual departments, we have the best overall team, we have the best engine factory - they're just doing an awesome job," he said.

"As in business, when there's one company that's better than all the others, it's exactly the same here. Our race team is leading the way at the moment."

Rosberg recorded the first of his five wins in Melbourne last season after Hamilton failed to finish the race and retired after just four laps.

The German will renew battle with his British team-mate for this year's world championship, which he admitted made for a challenging team environment at times.

Team boss Toto Wolff has said Mercedes will not try to hose down the pair's fierce rivalry, but they must not cross the line of what is acceptable again.

Their feud came to a head when Rosberg drove into Hamilton on the second lap of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps last August.

"The relationship has its ups and downs, but we have a base respect which is important to keep things going," Rosberg said.

"I have to be that little bit better. Last year wasn't quite enough. I just need to try to look for a little bit extra."

Australian Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo was on the podium in second place at last year's Melbourne race before being disqualified over a fuel technicality.

Rosberg said Ricciardo would be one to watch on Sunday. "Ricciardo is a big threat and it's great for Australia to have such a fantastic driver in F1," he said.

"I hope that he can do a great job this weekend, as he did last year, without the disqualification of course."