Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has firmly placed the favourites tag on both Red Bull and Ferrari for the Monaco Grand Prix while he hopes his squad can learn from its “painful lesson” at the race last year.

The reigning F1 world champions were thoroughly outperformed by both its biggest rivals at the Monte Carlo circuit 12 months ago, with Ferrari locking out the front row in qualifying before securing a 1-2 in the race with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo taking the final podium spot ahead of Valtteri Bottas in fourth for Mercedes.

Having seen the performance gap between the three teams shrink in 2018, Wolff is already expecting a tough challenge in Monaco with its rivals’ cars better suited to the low speed and high downforce demands on the iconic city street race.

“We are staying cautious with our predictions as we head to Monaco,” Wolff said. “Last year, it became a weekend of damage limitation when we didn't find the right set-up. It was a painful lesson from us and we are determined to show that we have learned it this year.

“We don't head into the weekend as favourites - they are Red Bull and Ferrari.

“Red Bull are strong in the slow-speed corners and where straight line speed is less important, while Ferrari dominated last year. Our job is to deliver a smooth practice programme, apply our learning from recent races and maximise the potential of the car, whatever that proves to be.”

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The Mercedes chief also sees the Monaco race as the start of a key run of rounds for the overall complexion of the 2018 F1 campaign which sees Hamilton lead the standings by 17 points from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

“We are now starting the heart of the season, with seven races ahead in the next ten weekends,” he said. “We will race on a broad range of circuits before the summer break, with races coming thick and fast.

“This will test the team to its limits - and any weaknesses will be harshly punished in the points. We are clear-sighted about the challenge ahead of us and determined to prevail.”

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