It is already clear that we will be hearing a lot about Mercedes in 2013, much of it from in and around the team. But what kind of Mercedes challenge can we expect this year?
Niki Lauda, the new non-executive chairman of the team, said before Christmas that there is a big job to be done to improve the way the Brackley based team operates and noted that, “While everyone else is on (Christmas) vacation, I will use the time to do everything to bring Mercedes to the front again — because that’s where we belong,”
Meanwhile Michael Schumacher, who left the team after three seasons to make way for Hamilton, told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport that Mercedes’ budget is one of the key reasons why the team lags behind the big spenders like Red Bull,
“It’s a factor,” he said. “Over the years, Red Bull built an infrastructure and has a budget giving them the possibility to respond to anything in the best possible way.
“It is nothing more or less than what we had at Ferrari.”
Mercedes’ F1 team ownership adventure was predicated on the Resource Restriction Agreement being more effective.
When they bought the Brawn team in 2009, for €123 million, the then motorsport director Norbert Haug spoke openly about how the Brackley team was well set for the new-look post credit crunch F1, regulated by an effective cost control mechanism between the teams.
According to Bild, Mercedes-Benz puts €60-80 million into the team annually, roughly half the €150m annual budget, but team sources suggest that this figure refers to the total cost of the F1 programme to the company, in other words the net cost of the F1 engine division in Brixworth (after engine lease payments from teams offset expenditure) plus the personnel at Mercedes in Stuttgart working on motorsport.
The problem is that in the intervening period the RRA has not been policed effectively; Red Bull did not want to pay ball with the other teams and they and Ferrari withdrew from the F1 Teams Association a year ago. Some effective RRA controls are in place on wind tunnel and CFD usage, but it’s clear that Red Bull in particular has been spending more. This is one of the reasons why Haug’s vision failed, leading to his dismissal last month.
So where does Mercedes go from here? This is one of the key subjects Lauda will have been assessing over the winter. With Haug out of the way, it will be his job to advise the board of Daimler (Mercedes’ parent company) about what budget level the team will require to succeed.
He may or may not be aligned in his view with the two men running the team, team principal Ross Brawn and CEO Nick Fry, and we will discover more about how aligned they are as the next few months go on.
The sense among experienced observers in Germany is that there are likely to be tensions between the two factions. Lauda has multiple media channels to get his message out, like his friend and opposite number Helmut Marko at Red Bull.
But the disappointment so far isn’t all down to budget; the technical team has not performed effectively to produced a consistent front-running car.
Lewis Hamilton has said that he wants to turn the team into a winning force, while both Brawn and Lauda have called for expectations to be managed. Mercedes is coming from quite a long way back.
That said, they went through quite a few upheavals on the wind tunnel and other infrastructure projects last year, the team now has many state-of-the-art facilities.
Above all, it needs its aerodynamics team to raise its game and design a more competitive car from the outset. Operationally Mercedes are at a good level, if they have the car to work with. If they can prove that, then perhaps a bigger budget will follow.