Ferrari are in pole position to replace Mercedes as the leading team in Formula 1, according to Lewis Hamilton.
The three-time world champion, who has won two of his titles with Mercedes, tipped Ferrari to show they have improved massively after a disappointing 2016 in which the Italian team did not win a single race.
Speaking in the press conference ahead of this weekend's opening Grand Prix of the season in Australia, Hamilton said: "I see Ferrari being quickest. They are definitely favourites."
This year fans will see a number of changes to the cars, which have better grip and are faster, while the tougher tyres produced by Pirelli mean there are likely to be far fewer pit stops.
Speaking about these adjustments, Hamilton said: "I have never seen the fans as excited [as they are] about this year, not knowing where the cars and teams are. More of these changes would be welcome. Maybe they should shorten the time between rule changes."
Fans excited by the new season may want to move swiftly to book corporate hospitality for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 16th.
While Hamilton has marked down Ferrari as favourites for the Constructors' Championship, he has said he is relishing the prospect of a title battle with Sebastian Vettel, who won four world titles with Red Bull, reflecting: "I would love that and the fans would too."
Noting that some familiar faces who have won the world title - including former team-mates Jenson Button and last year's winner Nico Rosberg - will not be in Melbourne this weekend, Hamilton said: "You just want to beat whoever it is you're up against and the bigger the fight the more satisfying it is."
While Vettel could be a big challenger in an improved Ferrari, Hamilton also expressed hope that one former team-mate and world champion who is still in F1 - Fernando Alonso - will also be a contender. However, the McLaren-Mercedes team has been beset by engine issues and their ongoing struggles last year were one of the reasons Button decided to quit.
That still leaves Red Bull, whose drivers Daniel Ricciardo and the 19-year-old Max Verstappen will be ones to watch, according to the Briton, even though he said he didn't see any huge improvements in pre-season testing.
British fans keen to see the 32-year-old from Stevenage back on top may be particularly excited by the prospect of the biggest challenges coming from other teams rather than a fellow Mercedes driver, as has been the case in the last two years. Valtteri Bottas will be allowed to race Hamilton, but it would surprise observers if he were to be as competitive as Rosberg proved to be.
Speaking alongside Hamilton, Vettel said he was not convinced that the advantage Mercedes have enjoyed in previous seasons will have disappeared in one pre-season. He remarked: "Mercedes have been very strong and even if you change the rules, if a team is strong they will build a strong car.
The Melbourne Grand Prix will be followed by the Chinese, Bahrain and Russian Grand Prix races next month. The British Grand Prix will be the tenth out of 20 races, with the final encounter at Abu Dhabi on November 26th.