It is difficult to know quite how to assess the chances of Mercedes Grand Prix heading into the F1 2011 World Championship campaign. Has the team genuinely found something to vault it back into contention, or will it be a second consecutive season of frustrated struggles and midfield mediocrity?

Up until the final Barcelona test, you would have been highly tempted to say the latter, and even by the team's own frank admission, the MGP W02 was not born a race-winner, nor even a podium challenger. The upgrade package taken to the Circuit de Catalunya, however, seemed to herald a significant upturn in performance, and the fastest time of the week for Michael Schumacher was undeniably an encouraging marker.

The seven-time F1 World Champion, certainly, has been buoyed by the progress made over the past few weeks - and by all accounts, he was not impressed in the slightest with his new car's feeling straight out-of-the-box. Now, he and team-mate Nico Rosberg are both talking up their chances, eyeing podiums and even victories.

Such a forecast could be just the stimulus that Schumacher needs to really rediscover his old form, something that began to appear with increasing frequency towards the end of last season. Determined to disprove his detractors and make his critics eat their words, it would be a surprise if 'Schumi' - even at the comparatively grand old age of 42 - does not regularly take the fight to Rosberg right from the word 'go'.

Both are excellent drivers, and both are race-winners in the right machinery - so now all that remains to be seen, is just how much of a step forward Mercedes has really made...

Crash.net World Championship Predictions

Nico Rosberg: 8th (2010: 7th) Michael Schumacher: 9th (2010: 9th)

Mercedes Grand Prix: 4th (2010: 4th)

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