Former F1 title winner Nigel Mansell has suggested the Mercedes could be the joker in the pack in the fight for the 2011 title.

Having purchased the Brawn GP team during the winter, hopes were high that Mercedes would be a contender in 2010, but Nico Rosberg and the returning Michael Schumacher were unable to challenge the likes of Red Bull and McLaren at the front of the field.

Rather than fight for victory, Mercedes had to settle for three third places for Rosberg in Malaysia, China and Great Britain, while Schumacher managed to finish no higher than fourth after coming out of retirement.

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However, the team was one of the first to switch focus to its 2011 car, ironically with some of its strongest performances of the year then following, and Mansell said he felt the team could be one to watch next year while also insisting that Schumacher hadn't made a mistake in coming back to the sport.

"At the end of 2011 if he hasn't won and the team haven't given him the car to demonstrate how good he is and how great he is then maybe it might have been the wrong decision," Mansell told ESPNF1. "But I think now he should be back with all the same feelings he had before he left, the development over this winter has given Ross Brawn the time and the team to energise everything they need and they have had a couple of showings where the car has demonstrated a better turn of speed. So they could be the joker in the pack next year and do something very special."

Mansell added that he expected 2011 to be 'incredible' with a number of title winners set to do battle for the title.

Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso all have at least one title to their name.

"I think McLaren will come back even stronger, but Adrian Newey is certainly not lying down and will be working very hard," he said. "I think the maturity that Sebastian Vettel will have now after winning the championship will be enormous. Mark Webber is a good, solid, upstanding man and I think he'll grow in stature and hopefully come out in 2011 and be a real strong competitor with Sebastian.

"And for sure, Ferrari is not going to lay down [either]. They were obviously very, very disappointed. But they are going to be there too. I really foresee an incredible 2011 developing. With four or five world champions on the grid together you've got to go back to the early 80s where you had something similar when we had seven one year. It is looking fantastic."