Mercedes has suffered a “setback” with the development of its Formula 1 engine ahead of the 2019 season, according to team boss Toto Wolff.

The German manufacturer has dominated the current era of power unit regulations since their introduction in 2014, with Mercedes taking a clean sweep of five constructors’ and drivers’ world championship titles since.

Ferrari made significant gains ahead of the 2018 season to close the gap but Mercedes was still able to come out on top as Lewis Hamilton claimed 11 victories on his way to clinching a fifth drivers’ crown.

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But Wolff revealed the reigning world champions had already encountered some problems with its engine programme amid talk that Mercedes’ rivals have made progress with the new aerodynamic rules coming into force for 2019.

"These rules have been changed, normally the downforce should be less but the rumours you hear from the paddock is that people have been able to recuperate lots of that," Wolff said at an event for team sponsor Hewlett-Packard. 

“There is a tremendous development race that is happening as we speak.

"Finding downforce, reducing drag and of course the engine is a very important part, adding more horsepower to the engine.

“So we are setting ourselves really ambitious targets. We have actually increased the targets six weeks ago because we heard some rumours that others were doing well.

“We’ve had some good weeks in the wind tunnel,” Wolff added.

“We’ve had a little bit of a setback on the engine side where we believed the new concept would deliver a little bit more. But these guys are very ambitious like all of us and so I’m optimistic.

“We will know when the first qualifying session gets underway in Melbourne, this is the moment where everybody shows their cards.”

Mercedes heads into 2019 looking to match Ferrari’s all-time record of six consecutive constructors’ titles, having become just the second team in history to record five successive world championship doubles.

The Scuderia will hope a new driver pairing of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel can boost its title aspirations, while there is growing confidence in the Red Bull camp about its impending switch to Honda power.

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