Mercedes wary of 'years of pain' in Red Bull title fight

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has warned that focusing on chasing down Red Bull for the title this season may harm his team’s championship chances for years to come.

Red Bull and Max Verstappen marked their intentions for this year’s championship with a commanding pole position at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix before Mercedes stole victory in the race from under the Dutchman’s nose.

With radical aerodynamic regulations being introduced for a new era of Formula 1 next season, focus will need to turn to the development of the 2022 car at a date likely earlier this year than in previous campaigns.

Mercedes stole a march on the rest of the field during the last major raft of regulation changes in 2014 with the introduction of V6 turbo-Hybrid power units and Wolff has stressed the consequences of starting late on development for next year.

“I think this whole concept of let’s switch off in order to get out of the blocks faster the following year is a bit of a tricky call,” said Wolff.

“I think you just need to optimise every season and particularly with next year’s regulatory change.

“It’s difficult to balance because we don’t want to lose this year but we don’t want to lose next year either and starting late for next year means that you could potentially run behind the leaders for quite a while and not only a year.

“The answer is not trivial.”

The Silver Arrows rear-end stability has left a lot to be desired, with the low-rake concept employed by the team no doubt hindered by the enforced downforce reduction over the winter.

Even though Lewis Hamilton emerged victorious in Bahrain, the team is sceptical of its chances in Imola and Portugal and Wolff has insisted work must be done to close the gap.

“It is very difficult to really get it right and in a way, you can’t sacrifice 2021 in the hope of having a more competitive race car and power unit next year. That is not how it works,” he added.

“I think everybody will be balancing their resource between the 2021 car and the 2022 car including the power units and we are the same.

“I guess at the moment we need to keep some emphasis on this year’s project because we are behind.”