As Mercedes pointed out several times during 2013, to appreciate how much of a step forward they made this year it’s important to keep in mind how far behind they were at the end of 2012.
Although they ended the previous season fifth in the championship, over the final six races they were out-scored by the four teams who finished behind them: Sauber, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso.
But the team more than doubled its points haul in 2013 and finished runner-up to Red Bull in the championship, which team principal Ross Brawn described as a “substantial improvement”.
Naturally the team had played down expectations following the hiring of Lewis Hamilton from McLaren at the end of last year. From an early stage the team seems to have concentrated more of its energies on preparing for the 2014 rules change, which should offer opportunities to teams such as this one, which build both their chassis and engine in-house.
|Best race result (number)||1 (3)|
|Best grid position (number)||1 (8)|
|Non-finishes (mechanical/other)||3 (3/0)|
|Laps completed (% of total)||2,142 (94.36%)|
|Laps led (% of total)||170 (14.98%)|
|Championship position (2012)||2 (5)|
|Championship points (2012)||360 (142)|
|Pit stop performance ranking||3|
Nonetheless Mercedes began 2013 in strong shape with a car which was often the fastest over a single lap. In the nine races from China to Belgium they were on pole position eight times.
Yet these were converted into just three race wins: although Mercedes could extract performance from the tyres, durability eluded them at first. That seemed to change after the most notorious episode of 2013 – their secret (or, in Mercedes parlance, ‘private’) tyre test for Pirelli undertaken with a 2013-specification car.
At Monaco, the next race after the test, Mercedes took their first win of the year. Was this thanks to some breakthrough during testing? It’s more likely this was a case of winning at Monaco being a question of putting the car on pole position then driving as slowly as possible.
However the team were clearly on an upswing in form which continued as Rosberg won in Silverstone after his team mate’s early tyre failure. Hamilton finally took his first win for the team in Hungary, and afterwards said the car felt so good he believed he could win all the remaining races.
He didn’t – Sebastian Vettel did – as Mercedes fared less well in the second half of the season. For Hamilton, Hungary seemed to be a fleeting moment of satisfaction with a car he never really got comfortable with – something he will be hoping changes with next year’s car, which he will have more input into.
Hamilton’s struggles were exacerbated by damage to his chassis which went unnoticed for two races. He also had his hands full with team mate Rosberg, whose star continued to rise as he all-but matched Hamilton over the course of the season.
Mercedes’ driver line-up was one of its key strengths – it was the only team to score victories with both its drivers. This proved decisive in its season-long battle with Ferrari for second in the constructors’ championship, and its telling their rivals have finally chosen to strengthen their driver pairing for next year.
But the team’s overriding preoccupation has been not to miss any opportunities next year. “From a development perspective most, or all, of our efforts are in the 2014 programme,” Brawn admitted at the Indian Grand Prix weekend.
Brawn judged the preparation for a new set of regulations brilliantly in 2008 with Honda, although the team didn’t stick around to enjoy the fruits of his labours in 2009. But if he’s managed to engineer a repeat for Mercedes next year, this time it’s Brawn who won’t be there.
When Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe joined Mercedes as executive directors in the first half of 2013 Mercedes’ top-heavy management structure raised questions about Brawn’s future. Sure enough once the season was over Brawn confirmed he was moving on.
The question now is whether the structure he has put in place to succeed him will be able to continue the upward trend.
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