The sight of F1® superstar Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes AMG Petronas race suit was the most striking image of the German team’s 2013 launch on Monday. The 2008 drivers’ champion had become synonymous with McLaren, his home throughout his professional career to date, but times have changed and the Englishman now occupies the cockpit vacated by the retired Michael Schumacher.
Despite boasting such a high-profile recruit, expectation management was the order of the day in Jerez, a strategy led by the newcomer. "The target is to improve on last year - last year they didn't have a strong year,” Hamilton stated. "This year is about trying to get settled in the team, get a good working relationship and working to steer this car in the right direction – and also next year's car.” Adding, "we have to deliver as a team, of course, but I am not a miracle worker. I'm going to work as hard as I can with the team to make steps forward.”
Hamilton’s message of continual improvement was reinforced by team principal Ross Brawn, who asserted, “we have to improve from where we are; where we are is not acceptable."
Mercedes ended the 2012 season fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, but a long way adrift of fourth placed Lotus-Renault. The season highlight was undoubtedly in China where Nico Rosberg claimed the team’s only victory for the year but with only two other podium finishes to celebrate, there is clearly room for improvement this time around.
Mercedes AMG hopes that improvement will arrive in the form of its latest Silver Arrow, the F1 W04.
Similar to Red Bull, Mercedes AMG have opted for subtle upgrades rather than wholesale changes to their 2013 challenger, to account for the similarity in regulations from 2012 and the more significant alterations to come in 2014. Or as it was explained at the launch, “the basic vehicle concept of the F1 W04 is a sophisticated evolution of last year's car.”
Aerodynamic developments account for many of the changes to the latest offering. A new five-element front wing design is a key feature, complimented by a second-generation Coanda exhaust, part of a series of rear end packaging changes. The stepped nose design of the 2012 car has also been amended, thanks to a small vanity panel, which has been found to offer a small gain during aerodynamic testing.
Other design notes include the retention of push-rod front suspension and the likely removal of the controversial passive double-DRS mechanism that proved such a headache in 2012.
The limited developments in the F1 W04 may come as a surprise, considering the significant restructuring at Mercedes AMG overseen by Brawn at the end of the 2012 season. So severe was Brawn’s pruning he has described the latest incarnation of his team as “the start of a second era” for the Silver Arrows. It would appear therefore that a much more radically altered submission will be presented for inspection in 2014.
Continuing the theme of managing expectations, Mercedes AMG’s foundation driver, Nico Rosberg, played down his chances of starting the season strongly. "I'm confident, but to start the season as we did last year, being one of the fastest cars? Not so confident," he said. "The gap was quite big at the end of last year, and first we need to close that gap. That's our main target for the start of the season, and I'm very confident we will manage to achieve that.”
Rosberg and Hamilton will line up alongside each other in Melbourne as teammates for the first time since their karting days. In Hamilton’s six visits to Albert Park as an F1 driver he has one victory and three podium finishes to his credit. Rosberg has been less successful Down Under, but did reach the podium in a Williams in the 2008 Australian Grand Prix.
Both men will put the F1 W04 through its paces in Jerez this week, before further testing later in the month in Barcelona. At this stage it appears unlikely either the Drivers’ or Constructors’ Championship will be heading to the Silver Arrows but with Ross Brawn in command you can be sure everyone involved will be flat out working to achieve those goals, whether in 2013 or beyond.