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SHANGHAI, April 7 (Reuters) - Mercedes are seeing red after losing out to Ferrari in the season-opener in Australia but the challenge from their resurgent rivals has had a galvanising effect on the champions according to Lewis Hamilton.
The championship battle over the last three seasons has been contested exclusively by Hamilton and retired champion Nico Rosberg, with Mercedes sweeping to 51 wins from 59 races and a hat-trick of drivers' and constructors' titles.
The bitter rivalry between the former childhood friends meant Mercedes' management often had to walk a fine line, managing the pair's unravelling relationship while reassuring them that they were being treated equally.
But Sebastian Vettel's win last month in Melbourne dented Mercedes' hopes of continuing their dominant run into a fourth season and left the German outfit facing the unfamiliar scenario of having to guard against an outside threat from a rival team.
"When your battle is within a team it is very easy for a team to implode as a constant battle for the whole unit to be working together toward the same goal has a conflict of interests within it,” Hamilton told a group of reporters at a round table at the Chinese Grand Prix.
"While currently there is still a conflict of interests in that both drivers want to win, we see red ahead of us and together, collectively, we have to push forwards."
Hamilton and Rosberg endured numerous flashpoints as they fought each other for the championship, even colliding on the track as Mercedes' worst fears come true.
But Britain's triple champion Hamilton, in his fifth season with the team, can expect an easier time of it this year.
New team mate Finn Valtteri Bottas, who replaced Rosberg after the German’s shock retirement and finished third behind Hamilton in Australia, is still getting up to speed.
"He has obviously got a lot of potential and growth to go,” said Hamilton.
"But it is all about finding the right balance in the team and so far Valtteri and I have a great balance and the scales weigh up nicely."
That should allow Mercedes to pull together and put all their focus on meeting the Ferrari challenge.
"It’s cool as you would imagine a football team having to work together,” said Hamilton. "A football team playing against each other would just be running around in circles." (Editing by Ken Ferris)