LONDON • Formula One's showcase Monaco Grand Prix could see record lap times this weekend as a result of Pirelli introducing their new ultrasoft tyres, according to Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe.
Red Bull's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo set the race lap record of 1min 18.063 sec around the Mediterranean principality's twisty low-grip layout last year but the cars are already faster this season.
Lowe said the performance of the new compound, which will be making its first appearance in tomorrow's practice as an option along with softs and supersofts, would be "particularly interesting".
"We're looking forward to seeing what kind of lap time improvement that might bring - and perhaps even a new lap record," he said in a team preview for the race.
"It's set to be an intense battle between ourselves, Ferrari and Red Bull, so we'll need a perfect weekend to come out on top."
The ultrasoft is likely to be the default tyre for qualifying but is also a popular option for the race.
"The large numbers of this compound nominated by the teams for the Monaco GP shows that it is a serious race tyre rather than just a 'qualifying special'," said Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery.
Mercedes' Monaco resident Nico Rosberg has won the last three Grands Prix there but Renault-powered Red Bull arrive on the back of a sensational win in Spain for 18-year-old Max Verstappen.
Ricciardo could also have the benefit of a new specification engine which Renault hope will bring half a second's improvement per lap.
Verstappen's win was helped by Rosberg and Hamilton colliding on the opening lap in Spain, putting each other out of the race, and Ferrari then making strategy errors that ultimately worked in his favour.
Monaco leaves no room for error and Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said: "Once again, we have seen our competitors make steps forward which have given us an even bigger battle on our hands.
"Red Bull came out on top in Barcelona after a close fight with Ferrari, so it's clear that we are under attack from more than one angle. We cannot afford to drop the ball, so we must remain united, remain strong and hit back hard this weekend."
While McLaren are currently not a threat to Mercedes, the Woking-based outfit's chairman, Ron Dennis, has predicted that they will ultimately be the team that topples the Silver Arrows' dominance.
Honda-powered McLaren have not won a grand prix since 2012 while Mercedes, with Rosberg and triple champion Hamilton, have been victorious in 36 out of 43 since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era.
"I honestly believe that the next world champions after Mercedes will be McLaren," Dennis told the BBC. "We'll get to that goal before other people.
"It is challenging but I have a firm belief in the technical competence of our people and a firm belief in Honda."
Former champions McLaren, the most successful team after Ferrari in the history of the sport, have scored 12 points from five races this season compared to Mercedes' tally of 157. Ferrari are in second place with 109 and Red Bull third on 94.