Toto Wolff has labelled Ferrari a “formidable competitor” and he is relishing another heated battle between the legendary Italian marque and his Mercedes team in 2019.
Formula One has been crying out for a genuine title battle for a number of seasons and it looked like motor racing fans might genuinely get one this season when the Prancing Horse came flying out of the gate.
Sebastian Vettel won the opening two races in Australia and Bahrain with Lewis Hamilton not tasting success until round four in Azerbaijan.
Vettel won again in Canada and at Silverstone and led the drivers’ championship by eight points from his fierce rival after snatching victory at Hamilton’s home race with the season at the halfway point in July.
But after the mid-season break, Vettel imploded with uncharacteristic and catastrophic errors committed, while Hamilton sparkled.
Vettel has won just one of the last 10 races leading up to the Abu Dhabi finale as the four-time champion was forced to watch Hamilton go above him and join Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.
Hamilton lifted his fourth trophy in five seasons in Mexico at the end of October and currently holds a 81-point lead over Vettel.
Mercedes boss Wolff was sat next to Ferrari counterpart Maurizio Arrivabene in Friday’s team principal press conference, and lavished praise on Ferrari for upping their game in 2018 – even if it ultimately proved fruitless.
“Ferrari has ramped up their game over the last year tremendously,” said the 46-year-old Austrian.
“I think the performance levels are pretty close to each other in every race. We had a few races where we won and then Ferrari came back. They had the upper hand and I think it’s fluctuated over the season.”
Not only have Ferrari come on impressively, but the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have also been mightily competitive too.
Australian Ricciardo won in China and Monaco while Dutch sensation Verstappen, 21, leads a new wave of exciting young talent and won in Austria and Mexico.
Ricciardo announced earlier in the season he will join Renault next year, with the French team improving to fourth behind the big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull in the constructors’ championship this year, having claimed ninth and sixth respectively since returning to the sport in 2016.
So, with 2019 promising to be just as competitive if not more so, is Wolff worried?
“We very much welcome the challenge, we enjoy the fight, it’s why we are here,” he said.
“At the end (of 2018) we came back up with a small advantage but they (Ferrari) are a formidable competitor and definitely with new goals for next season there might be another team joining the party. And with new regulations it’s up in the air and will be competitive.”
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