Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the challenge from Formula 1 rivals Ferrari and Red Bull in 2018 has surpassed the intensity of its title fight with the Scuderia last year.
The German manufacturer faced a serious title threat from a revitalised Ferrari in 2017 but ultimately prevailed to win both world championships, taking 12 victories from 20 races. Mercedes has faced a renewed challenge from Ferrari this year, while an opportunistic victory from Red Bull in China has set-up the prospect of a three-way battle for supremacy with all three outfits appearing evenly matched on pace.
Mercedes lost what looked to be certain victory in Melbourne due to a timing error under a Virtual Safety Car period, was out-performanced by Ferrari in Bahrain, and was unable to replicate Red Bull’s strategy gamble under the Safety Car in China, marking the first time in the V6 hybrid era the team has failed to claim a victory in three races.
Wolff admits the reigning world champions are facing a “massive challenge” this season, but insists it is one Mercedes is relishing.
“The 2018 Formula 1 season is set to be a celebration of everything we love about motor racing with three teams are fighting fiercely for race wins,” Wolff said. “We’ve witnessed exciting races with nail-biting overtakes.
“The fastest F1 cars in history, driven by some of the best drivers this sport has seen. So far, this year has all the ingredients for one of those legendary F1 seasons – a season that fans will look back on with smiles on their faces in years to come.
“And it's not just the fans at home or at the race track who are excited – we feel the same. And we know that we have a massive challenge on our hands. Last year, we were in a tough fight with Ferrari. However, it was nothing compared to the intensity of this year's battle.
“Both Red Bull and Ferrari will do everything they can to beat us. Their cars, their teams, their drivers – all of them operate at a high level and will continue to put us under pressure.
“Not everyone likes this kind of challenge – but we love it,” he added. “Each member of our team joined this sport for these moments. We're all together in an amazing battle in which every detail counts and with an outcome no-one can predict.”
Mercedes locked-out the front-row in Azerbaijan last year and looked set to take its second victory in Baku until a bizarre headrest issue forced Lewis Hamilton to make an unscheduled pit stop which ultimately scuppered his chances.
Wolff said Mercedes is determined to hit the ground running as the Brackley-based squad looks to end its winless drought at this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“We're going into the race weekend in Baku feeling excited about that unpredictability. It will be the first time the Azerbaijan Grand Prix takes place in April, with completely different conditions to the previous years when we went to the Caspian Sea in June.
“This is a demanding circuit where the drivers need confidence in the car to find the right rhythm – and you want to hit the ground running on Friday morning. Last year's race threw up a podium that nobody could have predicted and, as is the way with street courses, we can once again expect the unexpected.”