MELBOURNE • Mercedes have admitted that they expect to be "pushed to their limits" by Ferrari this year after their Formula One rivals emerged from pre-season testing with the quickest car.
The German team have been totally dominant since the era of hybrid engines was introduced in 2014, winning the five drivers' and five constructors' championships.
They are seeking a sixth consecutive constructors' title, something achieved only by Ferrari, who are the only ones that can stop them from matching their run from 1999 to 2004.
Across the eight days of the pre-season testing in Barcelona last month, the Italian team set the fastest times and emerged with a car that was roughly 0.3sec quicker than the favourites.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, felt it was clear that Ferrari's pace meant his team would face their toughest fight for years.
"Last year, we had to give it absolutely everything to come out on top," he said ahead of the opening race in Melbourne on Sunday.
"From what we have learnt so far, this year will be even tougher. It will push us to our limits."
He added it was not just about "who comes out of the blocks quickest", but who could best develop the car throughout the long, 21-race season.
The Austrian said: "The most adaptable and agile team will come out on top this season. We have shown in the past that we are fast and flexible and that we can handle every curve ball thrown at us."
Mercedes have done that in the past, but there is a growing feeling in the paddock that Ferrari could have the edge this season, with a new team principal in place, after Mattia Binotto replaced Maurizio Arrivabene, and a faster car.
If Ferrari's pace in Barcelona translates to race day, they could pick up an additional 21 points this season. F1 has introduced an extra point for the driver who sets the fastest lap of the race, assuming he finishes inside the top 10. His team will also earn the additional point.
While many will argue that it is just a gimmick, it could hand the advantage to Ferrari with their faster car and they will organise a race as best they can to ensure that Sebastian Vettel gets the bonus point.
The German set down a marker at testing to show he is ready for the fight and he will want the maximum 26 points, with 25 for a win, when the chequered flag is waved at Albert Park.
THE TIMES, LONDON