Toto Wolff is backing team Mercedes to bounce back in Azerbaijan

Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes

Toto Wolff believes the intensity of this season's Formula One fight has moved to another level as Mercedes head to Azerbaijan bidding to get their title charge back on track.

Baku plays host to the fourth instalment of a championship which has been absorbed by unpredictability, with Mercedes - the sport's dominant force in recent seasons - winless from the opening three rounds.

Indeed Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo's thrilling victory in China marked the first time in the hybrid era that the reigning constructors' champions have gone three races without a win.

"We know that we have a massive challenge on our hands," said Wolff. "Last year, we were in a tough fight with Ferrari. However, it was nothing compared to the intensity of this year's battle.

"Both Red Bull and Ferrari will do everything they can to beat us. Their cars, their teams, their drivers - all of them operate at a high level and will continue to put us under pressure.

"Not everyone likes this kind of challenge but we love it."

Lewis Hamilton, nine points adrift of Sebastian Vettel in the title race, was off the pace in Shanghai as he qualified behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas for a second time in as many grands prix before finishing only fourth.

Hamilton, who spent last weekend at the Coachella music festival in California, will this week return to the scene of last season's collision with Vettel in which the Ferrari driver deliberately rammed into him.

It was a race Hamilton should have gone on to win only for a loose headrest to derail his chances with Ricciardo taking the chequered flag ahead of Bottas and Williams driver Lance Stroll.

"We're going into the race weekend in Baku feeling excited about the unpredictability," Wolff added.

"This is a demanding circuit where the drivers need confidence in the car to find the right rhythm - and you want to hit the ground running on Friday morning.

"Last year's race threw up a podium that nobody could have predicted and, as is the way with street courses, we can once again expect the unexpected.

"So far, this year has all the ingredients for one of those legendary F1 seasons - a season that fans will look back on with smiles on their faces in years to come."

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