Lewis Hamilton expects a tough fight with Red Bull during this season based on the pace the team showed in its first race after leaving Renault for Honda.

Max Verstappen finished third in the Australian Grand Prix, overtaking Sebastian Vettel after the pit stops and putting pressure on Hamilton in the closing stages of the race. The result marked Honda’s first podium since 2008, and the defending champion says it bodes well for both Red Bull and the Japanese manufacturer this season.

“It’s great to see the improvement that it’s had for the team (Red Bull),” Hamilton said. “Obviously they were with Renault for such a long time, and they were able to pass a Ferrari. I think it’s awesome.

“The Red Bulls are there with us, and I think we’re going to have a really, really good battle through the year, between the three of us. Ferrari, something’s not been right (in Australia), but I’m pretty sure their car is still good. So, I think it’s going to be a really interesting season.

“I remember growing up watching Ayrton (Senna) drive with the Honda, and they were a formidable force back then. It’s great to see them up there. It’s definitely a surprise to see one of the Renault engines up in flames, but I hope that their reliability maintains, so we can keep the close battle through the year.”

Despite Red Bull’s strong start, Hamilton says it is too early to predict whether his main championship threat is likely to come from teammate Valtteri Bottas after his win in Melbourne or a rival team.

“I’ve been here a long, long time and I’ve never known after the first race. So usually the first four races you get a bit of an idea where we all stand — and it could be like this for four races, or it could be scattered.

“We’ve had years where we’ve had multiple different winners through the first races. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell you. But I can assure you that we will be pushing.”