When Mercedes’ new recruit Lewis Hamilton visited the Stuttgart factory in January he told the staff “I’m very confident that in 2014 we’ll have the best package”.
This says a lot about Mercedes’ attitude to 2013. The new engine rules coming for next year is an opportunity they intend to capitalise on, much as their predecessors Brawn did in 2009.
Hamilton’s arrival from McLaren is just one of the reasons why the team has seldom been out of the headlines during the off-season.
The departure of Norbert Haug, the arrival of Toto Wolff from Williams, Paddy Lowe preparing to move from McLaren and rumours over Ross Brawn’s future at the team paint a picture of a team in transition.
Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche has spelled out the team’s need for success. One win in three years was not their aim and the management changes over the winter reflect that.
Hamilton and Rosberg have been team mates before – the pair were put together in the Team MBM.com (Mercedes-Benz McLaren) squad in European Formula A karting in 2000. Hamilton won the title, Rosberg was runner-up.
The following year the pair made an ambitious step up to to Formula Super A, but ended the season winless. That 2001 campaign was the last time Hamilton ended a year of racing without a victory.
Expect year one of the Hamilton Mercedes project to have more in common with his second season alongside Rosberg than his first. But as his opening words at the factory show, he’s looking at the big picture.
The W04 is an outwardly conservative creation. This may prove no bad thing for a team which got it’s design priorities wrong in 2012, introducing a Coanda exhaust late in the year after focusing on other, less beneficial developments.
While the technical team looks top-heavy and has a glut of big names, that is in part a result of the team running simultaneous development programmes for this year and next. This is something Ferrari – the sport’s only other chassis-and-engine manufacturer – are also doing.
One of the Mercedes most interesting and less heralded hiring of the last 12 months is aerodynamicist Mike Elliot from Lotus. He helped develop the tidy and effective E20 with which Mercedes less well-equipped rivals beat them last year.
While the team are playing down expectation for 2013, reclaiming the position they lost to Lotus is a realistic expectation given their improved driver line-up.
Hamilton and Rosberg led the last two days of testing respectively. But, while conceding the car and team appear to be in better shape this year, both acknowledge they are yet to see where they really stand compared to their rivals.
Their rivals, however, are keeping an eye on the W04s – Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Christian Horner all commented favourably on the car’s performance.
Car 9: Nico Rosberg
His moment of glory in Shanghai probably did more to boost his reputation than three years of beating a late-model Michael Schumacher. He will surely face a tougher opponent this year in Hamilton.
The pair have raced for the same team before and Rosberg speaks fondly of it: “It really reminds, the memories come back from such a long time ago, it’s like 13 years ago. The memories come back and some times it feels exactly like then.”
But he won’t have forgotten that Hamilton came out on top in both their previous seasons together. Familiarity with his team and surroundings may play in Rosberg’s favour to begin with, but he will have outstripped expectations of he ends the year ahead on points.
Car 10: Lewis Hamilton
He has been quick to make his mark on his new team, urging the aerodynamic department to press on and pruning the dials on his steering wheel for ease of use.
It’s going to be a fascinating year to watch Hamilton at work, free of the constraints of McLaren but likely to have his work cut out on the track. As he’s pointed out several times, Mercedes were well off the pace at the end of last season.
Confidence in his ultimate success is not high at the moment – 61% of F1 Fanatic readers do not believe he will win a championship for Mercedes by 2015.
Hamilton can be a temperamental driver: we saw how badly his 2011 season was affected by his state of mind. But if Mercedes proves to be the new lease of life he was looking for – and the signs are positive so far – we could see something special from him this year.
Mercedes championship form
Mercedes first competed in F1 as a full factory team in 1954, but left at the end of the following season. They returned in 2010, taking over the team which had previously been BAR, Honda and Brawn.
Mercedes in 2013: Your view
What do you think Hamilton will achieve in his first year with Mercedes? And how will Rosberg cope with being reunited with his old karting adversary?
Have your say in the comments.
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Images ?é?ź Daimler/Hoch Zwei, F1 Fanatic