Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda says Sebastian Vettel's impressive start to the 2017 Formula One season has forced the reigning constructors' champions to change their policy regarding team orders.
Ferrari driver Vettel leads the drivers' standings after winning two of the year's first three races, either side of a triumph for Lewis Hamilton in China.
Last time out in Bahrain, Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to let Hamilton past, due to the Finn's lack of pace hampering his team's hopes of denying Vettel victory.
Lauda told BBC Sport: "It is logical: If I cannot go as quick as my team-mate I have to give him room to fight Vettel. The biggest problem for Bottas and Lewis is Vettel now. He is the one to beat."
Prior to the regulation changes brought in for 2017, Mercedes enjoyed three years of overwhelming superiority, Hamilton claiming successive world titles in 2014 and 2015 before Nico Rosberg's success last season.
"In the past we had no team orders because we were dominating with both cars and there was no enemy, no-one could get in between. This year, the first three races, is completely different," Lauda explained.
"Ferrari is competitive. Vettel is right there, makes no mistakes and gives us a real interesting fight. So our new policy has to be that if one driver of ours cannot go quicker than the other one then he has to think as a team and use his problems not to block the other one. But it is not a team order.
"So far Lewis was quicker, particularly in the last race, but these things can change, it works in both directions, we have to wait and see."
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff added: "We don't like team orders like 15 or 20 years ago, where you make one driver win for the benefit of the championship at an early stage.
"But if we have a difference in pace and we know the root cause we might interfere like we did last time."