Few would doubt that the Mercedes works team are the red-hot favourites ahead of next weekend’s season opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

However, the team itself is expecting strong competition particularly from the three teams to whom they supply engines too.

The biggest rivals to the Silver Arrows appear to be Williams, who had the best reliability during preseason and were the only team capable of matching the W05 for pace in Bahrain.

“It (Williams beating Mercedes) can happen,” Niki Lauda, who is now the Mercedes chairman, told reporters.

“Our customers are very important for us, and if they can beat us, this is also good motivation and a very constructive competition,” he added.

Even Red Bull’s Helmut Marko agreed: ”They (Williams) have never had problems in the tests, have always been fast, although not quite as fast as Mercedes.”

Not too far behind appear to be Force India and McLaren, the other two teams using German power, and Nico Hulkenberg, who returns to Force India for 2014, admits the Mercedes teams do seem to be the ones to beat.

“Mercedes and Williams look very strong,” said the German.

“They’re standing out. McLaren is also fast,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “At the moment, the Mercedes teams are a bit in front.”

While Hulkenberg agrees that the Mercedes V6 power unit is the best on the grid at the moment, he is not dismissing the Ferrari and Renault-powered teams just yet.

“At the moment that’s right,” Hulkenberg admitted, “but we all know how long a Formula One season is. Let’s wait and see.

“On the last day (in Bahrain) Ferrari did a strong laptime, and (Daniel) Ricciardo has also done a 1.35 in the Red Bull.

“I’m assuming Red Bull will solve the problems sooner or later,” he said.

With Red Bull, however, not expected to be battling for the win in Melbourne next weekend, Ferrari appear to be only real challengers to the Mercedes dominance at the front.

The Scuderia had a very low profile preseason with murmurings the team focused on reliability throughout the testing phase and company President Luca di Montezemolo believes it is too early to be making predictions for Albert Park.

“Let’s see how many cars get to the finish of the first race,” he is quoted at the Geneva motor show by Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport.

With speculation then that more is to come from the F14-T Mercedes Commercial Director Toto Wolff admits his team is wary heading Down Under.

“We are careful,” Wolff told the APA news agency, “as some teams have not fully revealed the potential of their cars.

“I have no doubt Red Bull and Ferrari will be strong contenders,” he added. “Force India and Williams are also fast enough to win races.

“It will be interesting!” added Wolff.

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