Formula 1 News

F1 2014 Season Team Preview: Mercedes - Silver into gold?

Pre-season testing suggests Hamilton and Rosberg's team as the strongest arriving to Australia.
Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13th, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- Pre-season testing is cryptic enough at the best of times, as we're forever being reminded.

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This year's variety has the potential to be much more cryptic still: radical rule changes render the form of previous years close to irrelevant, and will likely vary the programmes being run - and in turn the topline lap times - even more than usual.

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But despite this we've had something close to unanimity out of 2014's running on who's on top: the Mercedes is the best power unit of the three, and of the Mercedes-powered runners the eponymous works team is as things stand clearly poised as the team to beat.

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The Mercedes team has visibly been far ahead of the rest in terms of its preparation and programme.

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The W05 has covered more mileage than any other car, and seeing a Mercedes circulating alone, perhaps joined only by a McLaren, was a common sight in the opening two tests.

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In Jerez only the Merc did a race simulation run, while uniquely in the first Bahrain test it indulged itself with a quali-type run too.

Even more important all of the evidence is that the car is the quickest too. The W05 visibly is just about the most benign out there, suggesting the car's supremacy is not simply down to the engine, while the engine note itself sounds the clearest, even compared with the other Merc runners.

It's all transferring to the bottom line of the lap times: its longer run pace has been strong while the afore-mentioned quali run sent a shiver up the paddock looking for a spine to run up: Nico Rosberg's mark was within a second of his pole time at the same venue last year and a few reckoned he'd have been even closer had he access to the gumball tyres of then plus had he really nailed the lap.

And to think that some in other teams were muttering that the new formula was going to be hideously slow (Kamui Kobayahsi's commented that he'd be better off with a GP2 car than his Caterham).

All in the Mercedes team - as is usually the way for a squad that's on top - are doing their best to conceal their glee and to downplay expectations, but their glow of satisfaction cannot be hidden.

It is therefore no surprise that you'll struggle to find those within the fraternity predicting something other than a Mercedes to win in Melbourne. Some even have them running away there. Whatever is the case, the rest appear to be in catch-up mode.

As is always the way in F1, everything happens for a reason, and the state of the Merc shouldn't be a surprise.

The team has had the rule changes for 2014 circled in its diaries for a good long while: its V6 turbo unit was running on the dyno as long ago as early 2012 while even in that 2012 season the team gave up on the year early so to shift resource onto its 2014 effort.

All of this lest we forget was crucial in encouraging the mighty Lewis Hamilton to get on board too.

The marque's financial investment has been considerable also, just as it was with the sport's first foray into KERS in 2009 and then it produced by consensus the best system.

Both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamitlon have good shot for the championship crown.

While the technical team, that Ross Brawn painstakingly put together and bore fruit for the first time last year, are of the quality to make best use of it all.

Little has been left to chance: the whole package - engine, gearbox and energy recovery system - was running on the dyno together and in representative conditions (including aping a Grand Prix weekend of three practice sessions, a qualifying session and race) months ago, identifying and sorting the problems that perhaps those with a more of a plug-in-and-go approach have been discovering on track in testing.

More broadly, the Brackley team last year raised its spending to much closer levels to those of Ferrari and Red Bull, having previously reduced it assuming its rivals would follow suit in the spirit of resource restriction.

While as predicted being an engine supplier's works team, and having the most potential to develop the power unit and its cooling package in unison, appears to be crucial. Ferrari similarly looks to be ahead of its customer teams.

Perhaps the only thing that can stop Mercedes sweeping the board in the opening round is unreliability, and it might not merely be a forlorn hope for its rivals as the Merc's running in pre-season has been peppered by technical stoppages (as it has been for just about everyone).

Additionally, while the car looks quicker now it also is by consensus further down the line in preparation, which leaves open the possibility of other cars being as quick or quicker once they reach that point on their own learning curves.

And further ahead, just how the team does without the genius Ross Brawn - having left in the off-season unhappy with the management structure changes put in place by Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda at the start of last year - remains to be seen.

The team's management-by-committee structure is also one that the sport has shied away from traditionally, though it coincided with an upturn in 2013 and perhaps it makes sense in modern vast, multi-faceted F1 to spread the burden to more than one person. McLaren for one appears to be taking inspiration from it.

But all that lays ahead. For now, the all-pervading question being wrestled with up and down the paddock is how exactly to fly faster than the Silver Arrows.

Nico Rosberg during testing.

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1 Nico Rosberg 238
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