How good is the new Mercedes W02? It’s really impossible to draw any definite conclusions based on recent test results. The Merc’s times have been all over the map, but that’s the case with most teams, as they run through various programs, on long and short runs, and heavy and light fuel loads. Everyone agrees that no one will know where they stand in relation to the competition until the season opener, now pushed back to late March, in Melbourne, in the wake of the “postponement” of the Bahrain event.
As for Mercedes, both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg have posted the quickest test time, albeit on different days at different venues. Are we to surmise from this that the Merc will be chasing poles and wins this year? Hard to say. A week ago, Merc executive Norbert Haug asserted the new Mercedes wasn’t even among the top ten cars in terms of performance. More recently, however, he has sounded more optimistic.
“Because we were able to do more laps [in Barcelona], we understand the car and the tyres better, and that brings us lap time,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “If everything goes in the right direction, the Silver Arrow may surprise you.”
Indeed, adapting to the nedw Pirelli rubber will be critical. Michael Schumacher in his comeback year was plagued with understeer while trying to get the hang of last year’s Bridgestone tires. Felipe Massa, who was generally outshone by Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, had the same complaint.
Early reports on the new Pirellis indicate that (a) they have more front end grip than last year’s Bridgestones, which should counteract the terminal understeer that some teams struggeld with last year, and (b) they degrade so quickly that drivers will be lucky to get a single optimum lap with them.
The degradation, of course, is by design. At the behest of the FIA, Pirelli agreed to construct tire compounds with short life spans in an effort to improve the show. The general idea was that short-lived tires would create strategic opportunities, as teams devised methods of coping with performance differentials.
Mercedes struggled all of last year trying to come to grips with the Bridgestones. On the whole, Rosberg found them easier to adapt to than did Schumacher, although Schumi’s performance curve had a steeper upward slope during the latter phase of the season. I look for him to increase that progress during 2011. Whether the Silver Arrows boys can actually win races, of course, depends on just how good the car is. And at this point, that’s still a question mark.