Wolff: Inter-team battle poses new challenge for Mercedes

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The scorecard is equal at two wins apiece between Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes AMG Petronas through four races to kick off the 2017 Formula 1 season.

This is a fun stat because each of the last three seasons, there’s only been at the most three races per year Mercedes hasn’t won – and just eight races total. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won three apiece in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and Ricciardo and Max Verstappen won once apiece for Red Bull last year.

The consistent fight with Ferrari is pushing Mercedes harder than ever to kick off 2017, and it’s a challenge Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff seems to be relishing.

“This inter-team battle is a totally different situation that what we have seen over the last three years. You simply need to adapt to the challenge and that’s what we are doing, playing the hunter as well as being the hunted,” Wolff said in Mercedes’ pre-race advance ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

“At the moment there are two top teams fighting for both championships and I expect Red Bull will also eventually join the club. The small margins we are seeing this season are demonstrated by the closeness at the top of the Drivers’ championship and even more so by the one point advantage we have in the Constructors’. This fight will continue on to the end of the season and we will be prepared for that battle.”

Valtteri Bottas overachieved in Russia to score his maiden Grand Prix victory, defending against Vettel as the race wound to its conclusion. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton struggled for pace in a rare “off weekend” and was left to finish fourth, behind the pair of Ferraris.

Wolff said Mercedes feels it should be better this weekend at Spain with the first round of upgrades set to come.

“The prevailing feeling is that there is lots of homework to do to come back stronger with a car that can perform on a consistent level every weekend,” Wolff said. “I have the feeling that we are moving in the right direction but we need 24/7 shifts to achieve our ultimate targets.”

Of course, there’s also the matter of how Mercedes rebounds this race after its dramatic first lap coming-together between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg last year, in the race that ended its quest for a perfect season, and the race which saw Verstappen claim his maiden Grand Prix win with Red Bull.

It’s not something Wolff addressed in his pre-race Q&A, but Wolff’s praise for both Bottas’ performance and Hamilton getting the right tools this weekend will be key to Mercedes erasing its one major error of its 2016 season.

The Spanish Grand Prix runs from 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, on NBCSN, with pre-race coverage beginning an hour earlier at 7 a.m. ET.