Will Gray

Team preview: Mercedes

Will Gray

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Mercedes hoped to benefit from turning their resources to this year's car early last season - but while it didn't quite go to plan early on does a bright end to testing suggest they can recover?

Having shelved development of their 2010 car early to focus all efforts on creating a front-running machine for this season, it was obvious that despite having a major upgrade in the pipeline for the final pre-season test, finishing a second off the pace in the opening test was not the start to 2011 Mercedes had hoped for.

Team boss Ross Brawn revealed there had been a lot to do to improve on last year's car, which had "not been leading edge" in areas such as weight minimisation, centre of gravity and suspension layout and said they lost their way with the blown exhaust midway through the season.

In the first test of the new car, however, the times simply weren't there. There was a major pre-season development package to come, but Brawn openly admitted it would need to improve the car by a full second per lap to be anywhere near the pace. Fortunately for him, Michael Schumacher's table-topping time at the end of the pre-season running suggests that is exactly what they got.

After being lured back to F1 by the return of the Silver Arrows last year and suffering a disappointing season, it is understandable that Michael Schumacher's commitment was tested to the limits at the opening test, with his season forecast quickly moved from title aspirations to being "on the podium and, if things go very well, to win a race..."

But inside the team there has always been belief that the initial testing results were a bit of a smokescreen - and after the latest test, Schumacher had more reason to believe.

The new Pirellis are expected to suit his driving style and the car itself has been developed with a focus on more consistent handing and a stronger front end, which would suit Schumacher.

The car has the now popular pullrod suspension, offering a lower centre of gravity and more optimised aerodynamics, but the rear treatment still looks a little clunky compared to many of the team's rivals in early tests - although the new developments included new exhaust treatment which improved performance dramatically.

The team has opted for a more standard roll hoop intake instead of the 'blade' used last year as this solution has become less advantageous with the new regulations. At the front end, the wing continues to ply the two-element route and hangs on aggressive forward-pointing support strakes off a very flat 'platypus' nose.

In early tests, the sidepods had notably large cooling slats to cope with a problem Mercedes admitted was hampering performance significantly but that looks like it will also be resolved in time for Melbourne.

It was always the plan to create a test 'mule' before pulling the full package together just before the season start. The early version was designed to ensure all was well with the mechanical elements of the car, and to that end Mercedes will be happy as they suffered few reliability issues and racked up the third highest number of miles behind Red Bull and Ferrari in February.

Now the developments have come through it does look like Schumacher could have a car to make him shine like the days of old while Nico Rosberg, after being fairly subdued in pre-season after finding it tough to take care of the new rubber, was much more upbeat after the final test.

The team at Brackley have been working hard on this year's car and, once the full package was revealed, it certainly looks like it will put them in the mix.

That said, it had to. A performance similar to last year will simply not do. Not for Brawn. Not for Rosberg's determined drive for the top. And not for the continuation of Schumacher's comeback.

It's been a challenging start, but they could just have pulled it off. Now, though, the hard work will really begin.

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Every day leading up to the start of the F1 season, Will Gray will be breaking down a different team's prospects for 2011.

The schedule is as follows: Mar 14 Virgin; Mar 15 HRT; Mar 16 Lotus; Mar 17 Toro Rosso; Mar 18 Sauber; Mar 19 Force India; Mar 20 Williams; Mar 21 Renault, Mar 22 Mercedes; Mar 23 Ferrari; Mar 24 McLaren; Mar 25 Red Bull 

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