Mattia Binotto's declaration that Sebastian Vettel will be favoured over Charles Leclerc initially at Ferrari is a statement of intent, says Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff.
Vettel will be partnered by Ferrari Driver Academy graduate Leclerc in 2019, who took the second Ferrari seat after an impressive debut year in F1 at Sauber last season.
Binotto suggested last week that Vettel may be prioritised over new team-mate Leclerc if the championship situation calls for it.
Former Ferrari engine chief and technical director Binotto moved into the team principal role last month after Maurizio Arrivabene was dropped and Wolff believes he faces a big challenge.
"Mattia has a tremendous task in front of him, and I believe he wants to do it his own way," said Wolff.
"Team orders are always a very controversial topic, we've discussed it last year, be it within Mercedes or Ferrari, and coming out with that at the beginning of the season is a statement."
Asked what sort of relationship he expected to enjoy with Binotto, Wolff replied: "I've known Mattia for quite a long time, for many years, first as the engine boss and then as the technical director.
"I respect him, he's a very intelligent man, and he know how to manoeuvre his way through the paddock.
"He will be a force to be reckoned with, absolutely."
Wolff also admitted that the prospect of being the first team to secure six double titles - a feat that would move Mercedes ahead of Ferrari in the F1 record books - was very motivating.
"It wasn't done before, but equally there's a reason it wasn't done before: because it's very difficult, and it feels like you have 30 seconds left in the Superbowl and you need to catch the ball, and it's not trivial to catch the ball in the last pass and drag it over into the touchdown zone," said Wolff.
"This is a little bit how it feels. But Ferrari is going to do everything to not make that happen, and equally some of the other teams too."