Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says rivals Ferrari are favourites to win this year’s world title.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has won three of six races and leads Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by 24 points before this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.
Wolff said: “It’s painful but we are not the favourites for this year’s championship. At the moment, it’s Ferrari.
“We need to rise to the challenge to prove we are the team to beat.”
Ferrari’s resurgence following a major set of rule changes for 2017 follows three years of dominance by Mercedes.
Although Mercedes have proved to have the fastest car over one qualifying lap, the Ferrari is more flexible, works more easily in a wider range of conditions and has generally appeared to have an advantage in races.
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Hamilton has won two grands prix, in China and Spain, and his new team-mate Valtteri Bottas one in Russia, which came against the run of play after Ferrari dominated qualifying in Sochi.
Wolff said: “This is the reality of the situation now. We have to fight with all that we are worth for every single win, pole position, podium finish and every point. You can no longer expect that when you look at a timesheet the two Mercedes will be right at the top.
“We’ve come into this season with a strong car that has allowed us to win three of the first six races. But it has also caused us more complications than we have seen in previous years.
“Everybody at the factories is working absolutely flat out to assess the current difficulties we are facing – to define our objectives, work with the data we have and then come up with the right solutions.
“Some of these fixes will be short term, others may take longer.
“We’ve had bruising weekends before and it’s about showing resilience and getting up after falling.
“I remember the troubles we had in Singapore in 2015, which hurt badly. We gave ourselves a deadline to address that setback before switching our focus to the next race in Suzuka, which we won.
“We’ve done exactly the same thing after Monaco – addressing the problems before turning our attention to Montreal. We know that this season is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Another difficult weekend in Canada?
Mercedes’ fundamental struggles this season revolve around a difficulty in getting the Pirelli tyres to work consistently in their correct operating temperature window.
And Wolff admits that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal might not play to the strengths of the Mercedes car.
The circuit is a series of slow corners linked by long straights with a low-grip, low-abrasion track surface.
It is exactly the sort of track that could provide difficulties in operating the tyres, lacking the faster, longer corners which work the tyres harder and where the Mercedes’ strong high-speed aerodynamics can come into play.
Wolff said: “I’m expecting an interesting weekend in Canada. It could be a tricky race for us in terms of the layout of the track. But, equally, it’s a circuit that suits both of our drivers. Lewis has won a number of times in the past and Valtteri has always gone strongly there for Williams.”
Hamilton has won five times in Canada in nine appearances and it has consistently been one of his favourite tracks.