Speaking at a Mercedes media event, the reigning world champ said he expected Red Bull to arrive in Australia with significant updates to its new RB14 that may well see drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen set the pace.

"I think this year is going to be exciting,” Hamilton said. “Because last year there was a big difference between teams in the beginning, and then they got closer – but this year I think it starts this close and then it's going to overlap, and separate, and overlap during the year, as people are developing.

"Because we don't bring upgrades at the same time, I think Red Bull will bring something at the first race, which will be interesting to see.

"I think Red Bull are the fastest at the moment, potentially. They have some sort of upgrade coming, of some magnitude, two-to-four tenths or something like that – that's what I heard.

"Their car, they have generally a slightly different philosophy, they always build a car that has lots of downforce. Their maximum downforce has always been more than everyone else's downforce.

"But that doesn't work always everywhere. Some places where you have longer straights - cause they're very slow on the straights, normally, but they're fast through the corners. This advantage shifts through the year.

"I'm super confident in my team and the work they've done, I just think it's going to be close."

Likewise Mercedes technical director James Allison believes Red Bull will emerge as the main threat to Mercedes as it shoots for what would be a fifth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship titles.