Australian Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo said on 16 March that reigning constructors champions Mercedes are favourites to win this season. Mercedes are the clear favourites of the bookies to win a third successive title when the 2016 season begins with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on 20 March. Finishing eighth overall in last year's drivers' championship with only two podiums and no race wins, Ricciardo was upbeat when asked about his pre-season preparations with Red Bull.

"I think it's gone as well as we could ask for," he said. "Since Abu Dhabi, it is four or so months but in F1 terms it's pretty quick so you can only turn so much around but I think with the time we've had we've done a good job – chassis is strong, the power is getting there and yeah, we'll see.

"Mercedes still seem to be the ones to beat so they will be hard to beat this weekend for sure but that's one good thing about Melbourne as well, you never know with the weather so a bit of rain could stir things up like it did in 2014."

Fans may hope that Red Bull and Ferrari can push Mercedes in the race for the constructors' championship in 2016, but Ricciardo played down his team's chances of repeating their 2013 constructors win.

Ricciardo said: "I think at least for the first few races we're not really going to be in touch with a victory unless we get some rain or something that goes our way so I think from that stage then... the world title will probably be, after five or six races, already probably out of reach...

"I don't want to get the world's hopes up that I've got a chance of a world title this year when we're not quite there yet."

Strong races at the start of the season may lift the off-season gloom that has hung over a series which drivers have criticised for being over-complicated by rule changes and which commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said he wouldn't bother taking his family to see.

More rule changes have been arranged in the past month with the debut of a new qualifying format which sees drivers progressively eliminated during the three phases rather than knocked out at the end of each of them. Introduced to make F1 more exciting but approved less than two weeks ago, Ricciardo hopes the new format can work to Red Bulls advantage.

He said: "I think it will create a bit more pressure on not only the drivers but the teams to make sure they put us out on track at the right time, make sure we get a lap in before the elimination starts. It should be interesting, it's another challenge for everyone, hopefully, if it throws a few curve balls in there we can be on the better end of them."