Afer enduring a difficult preseason test in Bahrain, the Mercedes team have started a Formula 1 season on the backfoot for the first time since the V6 Turbo Hybrid was introduced. The team's three main protagnonists, Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas say there is still much work to be done.
On current evidence it seems like the Red Bull Racing team have leapfrogged Mercedes to become the leading squad in the Formula 1 paddock. Mercedes however are not going to reliquinsh their status as reigning champions with Wolff saying he expects a titanic battle over the duration of the championship.
"It's just a real dogfight," Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
"When you overlay the fastest laps and even the long runs, it's just so very close that every kilogram in fuel load can make quite a big swing. So, we don't really know.
"I think we are definitely closer here than we have been in testing but I wouldn't know where to position us versus Red Bull."
The team's lead driver Hamilton added that he expected Red Bull to perform strongly though the speed of his former team McLaren surprised him too.
"We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster, so we know they are leading at the moment," Hamilton added.
"McLaren are looking great and it's great to see them taking the step. It'll be interesting to see what the long runs are."
Hamilton did however add that improvements have been made to the W12 and that the car is significantly better than it was at the preseason test though the team's efforts must persist.
"Coming into this weekend we did a lot of work over the past week and I definitely think we've taken a step forward, but we still have more to do," Hamilton continued.
"This weekend it's looking better but still not perfect. So working as hard as we can. I know we still have a hill to climb but we're staying positive."
Bottas who described the car as "undrivable" once his tires began wearing out on the long runs echoed the sentiments of his two collegaues.
"We still have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole and the win," Bottas concluded.
It will be interesting to see how Mercedes react to this development. The German outfit have for the most part dominated recent seasons, so the fact that they enter a Formula 1 season at a deficit will prove somewhat of a unique challenge to navigate for the seven-time world champions.