Ross Brawn says he is confident that the updated Mercedes W02 will put the team in a position to challenge Red Bull at the front of the field during the 2011 F1 season.
The team endured a difficult start to pre-season testing with the new car and was struggling to match the pace of its rivals, before a series of new parts were brought to Catalunya for the final test of the year.
After an impressive performance in wind tunnel testing, the team ran a new floor and exhaust earlier in the week before putting a new front wing on the W02 – along with other parts – on Friday, with Michael Schumacher setting the quickest time, prompting defending F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel to concede that 'even if the time was [set] with low-fuel, it surprised us...and many others, I'm sure'.
Speaking prior to the German setting that benchmark time, Brawn said he was hopeful that the updates would give the team the opportunity to move up the pecking order after a 2010 campaign that failed to deliver the expected results.
"I think Red Bull has clearly gone into this year in quite a strong position," he was quoted by ESPN
. "That is who I anticipate will be our reference point in the early part of the season, that's who we have to beat to win races. So that's my judgement. But I don't think it is unachievable and things change quite quickly in Formula One.
"Having been in the fortunate position of spending some years as a reference point for other teams and other years trying to catch up, when you are the reference point you proceed a little bit cautiously because you don't want to spoil what you have," he added.
"When you are not the reference point you work a bit harder and maybe you are bit more adventurous and aggressive in what you do. And that's why it never stays the same all the time. That's why if a team is dominating it doesn't dominate forever because of its natural conservatism. But in trying to catch up you can trip over, that's all part of the fascination of our business."
Brawn added that it wouldn't necessarily be the quickest car that is successful in the early stages of the season as teams come to terms with the new Pirelli tyres, which have so far shown a higher level of degradation than the Bridgestones they replace.
"I think with these tyres you can't afford to go into the high degradation period because they degrade in a fairly linear way and then they fall off quite a lot towards the end of their life," he said. "So you don't want to be falling into that period, because you could lose quite a lot of time.
"I think there is plenty of opportunity to make embarrassing decisions this year. The degradation of the tyres in many ways is going to liven up Formula One. But we need to see what happens once the racing starts, because obviously the guy who stops early is going to have an advantage for a period, but if you keep accumulating those stops then you'll either have to make an extra stop or you're going to end up running out of tyres at the end of the race and become very vulnerable.
"Certainly it's going to be a lot more lively on the pit wall."