Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both expect Mercedes to remain the team to beat when the 2018 Formula One season begins in Australia this weekend, but the pair are hopeful Red Bull can offer a stronger challenge to the reigning constructors' champions.
The dominant force in F1 for the past four years, Mercedes once again got the better of Ferrari last term as Lewis Hamilton won the drivers' title.
Ricciardo and Verstappen finished a distant fifth and sixth in the standings, yet both men claimed race wins in 2017 and approach the new campaign with optimism.
Addressing reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday, Ricciardo said: "Merc, Ferrari and us. I think we're still the top three teams. I feel and hope it's a bit more compressed.
"I think Merc will probably turn up this weekend and they'll be the ones to beat, but hopefully not far in front."
Asked about Red Bull's prospects, the Australian added: "I think [I have] just more confidence, not necessarily in myself, but the process that has come over the past couple of months.
"Every year the team works hard to build a fast car, but come testing we've never really had much to show for it and this year we obviously had a bit more. From the team's perspective, absolutely, they're feeling much more prepared and I think we're always, as drivers, prepared, or try to be, come race one. There's a lot more confidence within the team itself."
Verstappen echoed his team-mate's views, stating: "I think in general last year, towards the end of the season, we were more competitive. So hopefully through winter testing and the start here we are again a little bit closer.
"I do think Mercedes is still the team to beat. I think they're still very quick but let's have a better start to the year than last year. Then if we are within, say, half a second we can definitely fight on a few tracks.
"I believe in the team, that's why I signed with them and I believe that they can build the best car out there. We just now need to have the right package and at the moment I think the full package is still not strong enough but we are definitely closing in, and hopefully sooner than later we can have the best package all around.
"In Formula One there are no guarantees in that way, so we just have to wait and see."
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