The pressure is on the Mercedes squad after a strong year in 2013.
Coming second in the constructor’s championship last year, in addition to the introductions to new regulations which are said to favour the manufacturers, has all added up to high expectations from the team’s top brass.
Totto Wolf, now running the team with Paddy Lowe after Ross Brawn confirmed his departure as Team Principal, acknowledged that they had to do well – better than 2013 – but he isn’t an out and out optimist.
“Now the expectations are very high, and we have to manage those expectations because winning a world championship is not an easy task. It is very difficult,” Wolff told AUTOSPORT.
“It is different to winning races because you have to put everything together. But can we honestly say that we are a contender for the world championship? No.
“Optimism is always dangerous. You have to be a pessimistic optimist,” he added, with what is the ultimate contradiction in terms
“The general tendency has to be pessimistic. You have to not take it for granted that it is going to happen. But also you must not make your life bad by being too pessimistic.
“What I can see is the effort, intelligence and resource being put into the engine development and powertrain development – and I believe that the right things are being done.
“Now do I know what Ferrari and Renault are doing? No. I am sure they have intelligent people and they are doing good work there as well. It is all crystal-ball reading… these guys are no fools. They are very intelligent people working very hard and I doubt one engine manufacturer is going to have a massive advantage.”
Mercedes may be said by some in the paddock to have an early starter’s advantage on their engine development, but non-executive Chairman and former three time world champion Nicki Lauda says the team still has a lot to learn in the title push in 2014.
“We are constantly learning new things,” the Austrian remarked.
“Suddenly you have to take care of things like water pressure or intercooling. Oil and water must be in a precise temperature window. If they go just a few degrees above a certain limit, it tears up everything.”
Cooling will play a big role in reliability in 2014. Given the new regulations: a limit on the number of engines in 2014, an additional turbocharger and the added heat source of a much larger energy recovery system, the burden on the cooling system will be significant.
However, Mercedes, with three additional customer teams on their roll this year – McLaren, Force India and new partners, Williams – their ability to acquire data faster and in higher quantities on the track will benefit their research and development.
“Four customers means four sources of information,” Lauda noted.
“The [customer teams] have no comparable means of testing, so their cooling is based on information provided by the engine partner. Everyone has their individual problems, but I will make sure that all of this is brought together as, that way, we can learn faster and respond.”
So the rumour mill may say that Mercedes has the slight advantage but naturally, the executive of the German manufacturer are trying to play any advantage down.
What do you think? Will Mercedes be able to match or better their perhaps surprising 2013 performance or is it too early to call?