Mercedes GP and Team Principal Ross Brawn are under pressure to perform this year, having responded to double World Championship success in 2009 with only three podium finishes from Nico Rosberg in 2010. The Englishman shares his feelings after three of four pre-season test sessions in Valencia, Jerez and Barcelona.
In light of the cancellation of the Bahrain test, what are the team’s revised testing plans?
We will be returning to the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona for a final four-day test starting on Wednesday 9 March and concluding on Saturday 12 March. Nico is scheduled to drive the MGP W02 on the Wednesday and Saturday, with Michael driving on the Thursday and Friday.
Will the additional time before the first race be an advantage for the team?
There is no real impact on our development program as we had no major upgrades planned between Bahrain and Melbourne. The additional two weeks will of course provide a good opportunity to regroup and allow all of the teams to have more preparation time before we arrive in Melbourne for the first race. The car specification for Melbourne will remain the same as we had planned.
What did the team achieve at the Barcelona test last week?
Barcelona was the final test with our launch specification car and we averaged nearly 500 kilometers (311 miles) per day, over 50 percent more than our daily average until that point of testing. It was a good week and we used the opportunity to complete fundamental set-up work, develop our understanding of how to maximize the tires over a single lap, and to improve our long-run performance. We successfully completed two race simulations with Michael and Nico at the first attempt, with the car finishing in good condition and without issues.
After Jerez, you mentioned that the car was running with compromises. What were they and have they cost car performance?
The biggest challenge for us so far has been a cooling problem. The short-term modifications that we made to the launch-specification car cost a reasonable amount of performance. The solution has been incorporated into the bodywork design for our upgrade package and will recover that performance before the first race.
The team was testing different front wing variants in Barcelona. What was the purpose of this work?
The front wing that we used in Barcelona will not be our final race specification but is moving closer to the wing that we will use in Melbourne. Our previous front wing was based heavily on the 2010 version, while the wing that we used in Barcelona moved closer to our 2011 design. We used the opportunity to investigate and confirm our direction before finally signing off the race-specification wing.
It has been suggested that the team’s performance is some way off the front-runners. Are you worried?
It’s a fair statement. We are well aware of the pace of our current car, the distance to the current front runners and the reasons for this, which include the compromises brought about by our cooling issues. Our intention was always to launch the car in a fairly basic specification to allow more time to focus on the upgrade package. This inevitably means that we look further off the pace than people might expect. Knowing all of the facts, I am comfortable with our current position and the developments that we have to come.
What was the drivers’ feedback following the Barcelona test?
Both Michael and Nico left Barcelona with a much better appreciation of how to use the tires and how to adapt their driving styles to get the most out of the new Pirelli compounds. Much of our focus at the test was to prepare the drivers for race weekend scenarios, including the race and qualifying simulations using KERS and the adjustable rear wing, and both drivers were happy with our progress.
Are you confident that the team has got on top of the reliability problems you have been experiencing?
Yes. You naturally expect to experience faults with a new car and fortunately we’ve had relatively few of a ‘car-stopping’ nature so the impact on our program has not been significant. Our mileage has been good, we’ve covered 4,300 kilometers (2,600 miles) over the three tests to date and, of course, the more mileage you can achieve, the more opportunities there are to identify any issues and resolve them before the season gets underway.
What reasons do you have to be encouraged after Barcelona?
Barcelona was certainly our best test to date and we have made continued progress since the launch of the MGP W02 in Valencia. The reliability of the car is now better and our upgrade package is coming together well, ready to be on the car for the fourth and final pre-season test in Barcelona.
After achieving fourth place last year, the team’s target is to improve. Will the MGP W02 be good enough to compete with the top three teams once the season starts?
It’s still too early to say but I am sure everybody will know more after the final Barcelona test. We have a very good base to build on. Our team is progressing very well and the Silver Arrow is coming together. Our target remains to take a step forward compared to last year and to compete with the best.
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