Team mates and title-rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are confident their Brackley based outfit can maintain their sizeable advantage at the front of F1 in the face of expected big developmental pushes from their trailing rivals over the forthcoming races.
Mercedes have returned to Europe following the opening quartet of flyaway rounds having made the most emphatically dominant start to a season for nearly two decades courtesy of their two drivers sharing out each pole and race victory for the entire season so far, with Lewis Hamilton taking 3 victories to Rosberg’s 1, but with the German retaining his championship lead with a points tally marginally superior to Hamilton’s; 79 to 75 points.
With next week’s Spanish GP ushering in the start of the European leg of races, traditionally heralding the ‘actual’ start of the in-season development race, Mercedes’ so-far distant rivals, notably Red Bull and Ferrari, are aware they need to close the pace gap if they wish to keep the championship open past the mid-season mark.
Theoretically, due to Mercedes’ notably superior performance, the team have less improvement potential than their nearest adversaries in Red Bull and Ferrari. However, both of their drivers are adamant there is still lots more to come.
Hamilton has stated that he believes his car’s aerodynamics as one such area for refinement.
“We’re not sitting comfortably that’s for sure. We’ve got more work to do,” the Briton declared.
“The Red Bull is very, very fast through the high-speed, which tells me they maybe have a little bit more downforce than us. Last year was a massive gap between how much downforce they had [compared to what Mercedes had]. We’ve definitely closed that up but I think we can do a better job, we can do more.
“So we’re going to keep pushing on that and undoubtedly Mercedes are going to keep pushing and I feel comfortable that they’ll keep getting better in terms of the engine.”
Since the revival of Mercedes’ works team in 2010, they have tended to start seasons relatively strongly, matching or marginally trailing the established front runners only for their good form to slowly fizzle out as the season progresses. With the exception of 2011, the team have never managed to score more points in the second half of the season than the first.
However, Rosberg, who has remained a constant fixture with the team throughout that period, thinks they are now fully capable of maintaining the necessary rate of development in order to maintain their gap relative to the surrounding cars.
“[am I] Concerned? No, because we really have a strong team now,” the German stated after his 2nd place in Sepang.
“It’s taken four-and-a-half years and we’re just well set up now. Starting with Executive Directors Toto and Paddy at the top… Filtering down I think we have a good structure now and it’s shown with this car. We’ve built a fantastic car and so that’s proof of the structure we have now in place.”
The 28-year-old did, however, add a note of caution given the premature nature of the 2014 regulations, which are almost certainly going to play a role in deciding where every team stands in the mid-season pecking order later in the year.
“Very recently Red Bull was still the benchmark and is still the benchmark as a team – I don’t think it changes that quickly – so we need to be careful and keep on improving ourselves, which we are doing, to keep our advantage or even extend it,” he added.
“The target needs to be to extend it, that’s going to be very ambitious, but that needs to be the target. At least keep our advantage and I’m optimistic that we can achieve that.
“But saying that, this year it’s a development race which is much more extreme than we’ve seen in recent years because the regulations are so new.
“When the regulations are new the development curve just goes straight up for the first period and then it flattens off at some point once you can’t really find so much more.
“But in the beginning the teams are learning so much…it’s really important to keep on it because the chances for the teams behind us to catch up are much bigger than, for example, if we were being in the same situation last year because the development is just going to be huge this year.”
As a result of a combination or their superior package and quality driver performances, Mercedes are currently dominating the Constructors standings with 154 points. Their nearest rival remains Red Bull, with a near 100 point deficit.