Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo has said he expects Mercedes and Ferrari to be the pace setters at this week’s season opener in Australia, but his team won’t be far behind.

Ricciardo finished third in last season’s driver’s championship but may be settling for less this year if testing pace becomes race pace.

Ferrari topped the timesheets in Barcelona and perhaps surprised many as being the team to challenge Mercedes instead of Red Bull.

In the new aero era of the sport, it was expected that Adrian Newey, whose car won four consecutive titles from 2010 to 2013, could design a car to challenge at the top.

“Hopefully we are going to go well but it is hard to know,” said Ricciardo. “Testing is never really a clear picture, but I expect Ferrari and Mercedes to be quick.

But the Australian doesn’t expect his team to be too far off the pace when the cars hit the track at Melbourne this weekend.

"From testing, it looked like less than half a second," he said. "I am not sure how much less. But less than half a second."

“Last year I did not win the title and I was still very happy. I got my first pole position, and I got back on the top step of the podium. If I perform at my best I will be happy this year and I will be very happy with the world title.

“It is my target and aim to be world champion, and I will do what I can to make it happen this year, but I am not expecting it.”

Ricciardo set the fastest lap at his home Grand Prix last year with a 1:28.997; expect those times to tumble with the much faster cars in 2017.

The Australian Grand Prix gets underway on Sunday March 26 with lights out at 6:00 am GMT.