2013 Team Reviews: Mercedes

2013 for Mercedes has been tale of trials and tribulations, but the sprinkling of success has softened the blow of the damaging tyre-test gate and the brake down of relationships in the team’s hierarchy. With Ross Brawn departing the team, you could suggest that the future could look bleak for the team from Brackley, however, with the likes of Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton successfully integrating themselves into the team over the course of 2013, this coming season could be even better than the last. The three victories in 2013 somewhat made up for the turmoil faced off the circuit.

Hamilton Becomes One Of The Family…

2013 was all about integration for Lewis Hamilton as he opened a new chapter of his career, with his first season away from McLaren. The day when he headed for pastures new would always be a challenge – Mercedes knew that after driving for McLaren for six years in Formula One, the Brit would need to be integrated into the team slowly. Lewis relished the opportunity and it was clear from his first interview at Brackley, where he already seemed settled, at least looking from the outside-in. 
This confidence emanated from him when he hit the track for the first time, which was remarkable considering the circumstances. Two podium finishes in Malaysia and China displayed both the strength of the car as well as Hamilton’s excellent work throughout the winter. A brief mistake in Malaysia when he drove into the McLaren pit-box instead of his new employer’s, was the only sign of his previous relationship. 
The points amassed at the start of the year were very well deserved. The W04 was not free of issue especially during the early stages of the year, as tyre wear was a significant stumbling block. The high levels of degradation were amplified by Lewis, as his teammate Nico Rosberg had previous experience regarding Mercedes’ tyre characteristics. It was the steepest of learning curves for Hamilton and these difficulties were evident in Spain, as he could only manage P12, despite being given advice on tyre preservation from his German teammate – Regardless, Rosberg could only manage P6 himself!
Eventually, Lewis turned his consistency into a victory in Hungary, with a truly magnificent drive. Bold, brash and decidedly rude manoeuvres from Hamilton made his race, while Sebastian Vettel fell short when trying to clear the traffic between stops. A well deserved victory and the last non-Vettel triumph of the campaign. Seems a remarkably long time ago now…

Rosberg’s Coming of Age

While Michael Schumacher drove the Silver Arrow alongside Nico Rosberg for his three seasons at Mercedes, Rosberg managed to out-qualify and out-race the seven time World Champion. However, few people were willing to credit Rosberg for the success, suggesting that it was merely Schumacher’s rustiness which made his fellow countryman look stronger. This year was identified as the year that we would find out just how good Keke’s son is and he most certainly delivered.
Nico’s performance against Hamilton this year was a clear sign of his credentials. He notched two victories in Monaco and at Silverstone, and while Lewis did eclipse Nico’s points total in 2013, it was only by a mere fraction – 189 points to 171. The additional victory makes up for the points difference in my view. Moreover, this campaign also showcases just how good Schumacher was on his comeback just to keep pace with Nico.
Unlike Hamilton, the German enjoyed a remarkably strong end to the year, finishing on the podium in both India and Abu Dhabi. This is such a crucial time to perform well, as it supplies the driver in question with emphasis heading into the winter and while Rosberg does not seem to be a guy who lacks motivation, any boost is a good boost.

Tyre Test Gate

It wouldn’t be a Formula One campaign if there was no controversy now and again. This year’s political fiasco centred around Mercedes and Pirelli as it was alleged that the pair had collaborated in a secret tyre test which took place just after the Spanish Grand Prix. The news came out just prior to the Monaco Grand Prix – Nico Rosberg’s lights to flag win lit the blue touch paper and the typical bickering was initiated.
Of course, the matter went to the International Tribunal in Paris, with the accuser Christian Horner, the accused Paul Hembery, and the scape-goat Ross Brawn. Mercedes had put Brawn on a pedestal – If the case turned out to be a horrendous disaster, it would be Brawn who would be held accountable. Convenient, considering that he was soon to depart. However, Ross performed remarkably well at the hearing, showing all his experience and the calm attitude which has been a characteristic of Brawn’s for many years. With a crucial email from Charlie Whiting showing that the team had conducted the test in good faith, they escaped the hearing with merely a ban from the forthcoming Young Drivers Test and a fine. Meanwhile, Pirelli were able to continue their contract as tyre suppliers. Everyone came out a winner, except from a certain leading Team Principal.

Too Many Cooks…

The employment structure at Mercedes is as difficult to decipher as a Rubik’s Cube – Who really is the Team Principal, and who is running the operation? With the entrance of Wolff and later Lowe to Brackley, Brawn clearly failed to understand his position within the team. Ross is a magnificent team leader, yet not a man to claim a back-seat role at a team and the platform of Team Principal was never declared by anyone at Mercedes, (and their were plenty of people who could take on the responsibility.) At times, I doubt the team themselves even knew.
The relationship was evidently collapsing and Brawn was loosing patience. It was somewhat of an inevitability in the end that he would leave and loosing a man like Brawn can never be a positive for a team. His experience and technical knowledge is one thing, but his magnificent man-management skills has seen him claim several championships. In Malaysia, when the Red Bull drivers took matters into their own hands and undermined their Team Principal, Nico Rosberg respected Brawn as the boss of the team and despite arguing his case, the German adhered to the team order to stay behind Hamilton in P4. When fellow Mercedes employees look sheepish to claim responsibility for Tyre Test Gate, Brawn was ready to serve his team’s case. Despite Mercedes having Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe, Bob Bell, Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis and Niki Lauda as the face of their team, loosing Brawn may have catastrophic consequences. His legacy at Mercedes will live on in 2014, yet beyond this, the true effects may become abundantly clear.

Mercedes have made huge steps forward in 2013 and are value for their well-earned P2 in the constructors. The development has been phenomenal and few could have predicted their strength prior to the season, especially in regards to their magnificent Qualifying pace. The W04 was the fastest car on the grid over the course of a lap, yet politics, high tyre degradation and an undefined leader did cause issues. However, 2014 could be where the silver arrows return to the front of the field on a more regular basis with the integration of the new faces.
They are already my title tip for 2014!            

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