Lewis Hamilton acknowledged he will likely have his work cut out if he is to start the 2021 Formula One season with a second straight win.
Reigning F1 champion Hamilton qualified on pole for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix but will not have the support of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who was only good enough for eighth.
Instead, it is Sergio Perez who will start alongside him on the front row at Imola on Sunday, with the Mexican's Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen in third.
Hamilton accepted Red Bull's pace and positioning means they will have a significant advantage in trying to stop him from winning the opening two races of a calendar year for the first time in 15 seasons.
"It's much different from obviously past experiences. I can't remember the last time I saw the Red Bulls so close, so I think tomorrow, of course … if we're able to get off in order then they obviously have a bit of a better set of cards in terms of strategy," said Hamilton.
"But that doesn't mean we can't pull out something unique and do something different.
"I'm not really sure what happened with Valtteri. It's very hard to overtake here so obviously we probably won't have the support of him early on.
"Maybe he will make it through but otherwise we've just got to focus on our job and try and do absolutely everything and more to keep these lads behind."
Unlike Hamilton and Verstappen, Perez will start the race on soft tyres.
Explaining the strategy decision, Perez said: "We felt as a team that the soft is nowhere near where it was last year, so it's a good race tyre. It's just different to the medium when it’s important… it was very important and crucial for me to get that learning, that consistency and that progression.
"Whether or not it is the right or wrong strategy I think there's not much between them so we are definitely in the game for tomorrow."
Verstappen added: "Of course, we have to wait and see what is going to happen tomorrow but yeah, it's going to be interesting what can be done.
"But not only with that but also what the weather is going to do, if there is a bit of rain or not. I guess we just have to wait and see what's going to happen but hopefully in the race it will be close again."