By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton believes his Mercedes Formula One team can live up to their advance billing as favorites when the season starts in Australia next week.
"I think we're as ready as we can be for Melbourne and I'm more fired up than ever," the 2008 world champion declared on Friday in a preview for the opening race.
"With all the changes within the sport and the hard work that's been going on within the team, I believe this can be our year to really show what we're capable of," added the Briton, who joined Mercedes last year after winning his title with McLaren.
"That's not to take anything away from our opposition, who will be incredibly tough to beat as always, but I feel like I'm equipped with the tools I need to succeed. I can't wait to get started."
British bookmaker William Hill has Hamilton as 5/2 favorite for the title with Red Bull's quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel second at 3/1 and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso listed at 11/2.
Mercedes are 10/11 for the constructors' championship, ahead of Ferrari on 7/2 and Red Bull at 4/1.
Mercedes have been the most reliable team in testing ahead of a season that introduces major change in the shape of a 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engine with energy recovery systems to replace the old 2.4 liter V8s.
The German manufacturer provides engines to four teams, including the works' one that Hamilton drives for, while Renault supply four and Ferrari the remaining three.
Renault, whose engines have powered Red Bull and Germany's Vettel to both titles for the past four years, have experienced problems that have seriously limited the amount of laps done in testing.
Mercedes finished as overall runners-up last year with Hamilton winning in Hungary.
"Overall, I think our winter testing program went better than expected," said Hamilton's German team mate Nico Rosberg.
"Having said that, the first Grand Prix is the first real opportunity to judge how well we have done against our competition. Pre-season doesn't tell the full story, especially this year with the new regulations."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)