MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton on Wednesday welcomed the prospect of a stronger challenge from his rivals as he seeks to raise his performance level again in this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
The championship leading Briton, who has moved three points clear of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg at the top of the standings after winning the last four races, explained that he wants a tougher contest to keep pushing him on.
"Monaco has always been a track that I've really done well at, but Nico was very, very quick here last year and there are not many team-mates that I've allowed to beat me here," Hamilton said.
"So I'm really hoping that this weekend I can turn up the pressure again... I am looking to lift my performance." Hamilton was disappointed to finish fourth in Monaco a year ago, but said that in retrospect he believes his pace was respectable given his discomfort with the Mercedes at the time.
"Last year was probably the toughest year in terms of being able to get the maximum out of the car," he told reporters.
"Last year I didn't really feel like I could do that anywhere really.
"To have been second on the grid, even though I wasn't getting 100 per cent out of the car, was quite cool. I'm hoping this weekend that I'm able to extract more from the car and it should be better."
Asked about the perceived lack of competition to Mercedes, he said: "I'm racing my team-mate, so I do have competition and I'm grateful for that! I'm hoping we have a closer race. It would be cool if there were Ferraris and Red Bulls in the mix this time."
Despite the daunting experience of finishing second to Hamilton at the last four races, Rosberg insisted that he has the speed and talent to beat his Mercedes team-mate this weekend.
Rosberg, who lives close to Hamilton in the Mediterranean principality, won last year's race from pole position and believes he can repeat that feat to regain the leadership in this year's drivers' championship.
The 28-year-old German driver said that he drew encouragement from his form in dry qualifying sessions this year and pointed to the forecast for a dry weekend in Monte Carlo.
At five Grands Prix this year, Hamilton has taken four poles to Rosberg's one, but in dry sessions the 'score' is 1-1.
Asked by reporters if he needed to try a new approach to qualifying, Rosberg said: "No. I don't.
"Of course, three of those qualifying were in the wet, but in the dry it is 1-1 - and it is supposed to be dry on Saturday, so I am confident I can make it happen.
"In general, it has been a tough battle up until now. I expect it to continue like that." Meanwhile, rival drivers believe the unique characteristics of the Monaco street circuit give Mercedes' rivals a chance this weekend.
Defending four-time drivers world champion Sebastian Vettel said: "Mercedes have a very, very strong package, Nico and Lewis are very good around here so they will be the ones to beat.
"Maybe we can be a bit closer. The target is to have a very good qualifying because that's half the job done on Saturday."
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari said: "In Monaco, definitely, there is a different scenario to other races and it is a little bit more open for some other teams after the domination of Mercedes in the first races."
"Hopefully we are going to see some alternatives, but they are still big favourites. No doubt. If you have confidence with the car, you can do extra here and the performance of the car is not so important."