Mercedes GP Petronas team principal Ross Brawn has refused to rule either of his drivers out of the 2010 Formula One title race, despite others in the sport apparently discounting the Silver Arrows after just three races.
While Michael Schumacher's performance - or lack of - has surprised some, Nico Rosberg sits in a share of fourth place with reigning champion Jenson Button, just four points off overall leader Felipe Massa with finishes of fifth, fifth and third from Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia. Despite that, Red Bull rival Mark Webber has already dismissed Mercedes from title contention, claiming that it will be a three-horse race between RBR, Ferrari and McLaren.
Brawn, however, disagrees - and refuses to rule Schumacher out of the equation either.
"With the new scoring system, just one race weekend can have a dramatic impact on the standings," the fabled designer and tactician told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport
from a wet and windy Shanghai, “Nico is extremely fast and has run very good races, especially in Malaysia, but, with every weekend, Michael is gaining more and more momentum. Both will get good results when we give them a car that matches their talents - then they will be right at the front.”
Brawn has already admitted that the WO1 has yet to produce the speed to match Webber's tips [see story here
], but remains confident that efforts behind the scenes in both Brackley and Stuttgart will have the desired effect of closing the gap on the leaders.
"We hope that we can continue the upward trend in China, especially with Michael who, if he had a problem-free run, could show the progress he has made since beginning of the season," he noted, "The top teams look, for the moment, very strong, but we have an aggressive development programme for the next few months with which we should be able to reduce the arrears to these teams. It is not easy to predict when that will happen, but everyone in the team is working extremely hard to guarantee that we achieve this goal as fast as possible."
Observers may question Brawn's judgement - and maybe misplaced loyalty - in backing Schumacher for a title shot, but the wily Briton insists that the seven-time champion should not be judged on three races, especially as one ended with mechanical problems and another was hampered by a first lap collision not of the German's making.
"The title fight will not be decided for a long time," he pointed out, "Michael has a strong influence on the team and, even though he still trying to gain a foothold on F1 after three years away, it is rather clear that he is becoming stronger with each running. Unfortunately, Michael did not have good races in Melbourne or Malaysia but, in both cases, the reasons for it lay outside of its control.
"His technical contribution is of inestimable importance, and his approach to racing has not changed since our time together at Ferrari. He was always the ultimate professional, with full devotion, and still supplies technical feedback on an enormously impressive level. But, above all, Michael is enjoying his return to the sport - and I know that he loves the feeling of being in the top flight again.
"Michael and Nico have proved that they are very strong team players and co-operate very well. We were always very open in the team, and both drivers and their engineers work closely with one another on the improvement of our car. That has the highest priority, but I think it will become a fascinating fight between them."