The reigning world champions turned heads in the Bahrain paddock when it brought a revised sidepod update at the second and final pre-season test, having previously ran a different concept across the opening three days of testing at Barcelona. 

Mercedes has been struggling with porpoising and its pre-race fears of a difficult opening weekend in Bahrain were realised in qualifying as Lewis Hamilton ended up almost 0.7s off pole. Meanwhile, teammate George Russell was only ninth after making a mistake at Turn 1. 

“We stumbled upon circumstances that made us realise we had an issue much too late,” Wolff said. 

“We had a solid first test, but knew that it was probably not entirely relevant because we would be bringing a massive upgrade to the test in Bahrain and therefore maybe you are looking at the results and data from the first test not in the way you should be.

“That’s why when we put the car on the road in Bahrain we were really surprised with the problems that we had. 

“It took a while to understand them, now we’re in the process of dialling them out. But dialling it out means just applying the science and the scrutiny and the hard work, it’s all physics, not mystics.”

Asked if there is a middle ground between the two concepts that Mercedes could investigate, Wolff replied: “No, I think we’ve committed to the current concept and we strongly believe that it’s the right way.” 

Wolff stressed that “one of the strengths in our team is to be very realistic about where you stand”. 

He added: “That isn’t catastrophic but it’s putting us in front of a very different challenge to all the previous years. 

"We’ve had to fight Ferrari engines and we’ve had to fight regulatory changes like last year with Red Bull and we’ve still been able to win the championships and be very close and now there’s a new challenge. 

"We’re third on the road. We’re a little bit upbeat about where we’ve been able to consolidate ourselves in qualifying and if you’d have told me that last year, I’d have said that’s simply not satisfactory but where we are today, that’s the harsh reality. Now we know where the target is.”

And Wolff does not believe Mercedes has been hindered more than its main rivals as a result of the reduced cost cap for this year.

“In a competition with Red Bull and Ferrari, it makes no relevance because we were always in the same league of spending, in the way we are in the same league of spending now,” he said. 

“So there will be diminishing returns over the mid and long term and the field is going to become even closer in terms of lap time differentiation. 

“I have no doubt if we unlock the potential that’s in the car that we will be playing with the guys in front.”