Although the short-term target is a third row grid slot for both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, Ross Brawn has alluded to 'ambitious' longer-term plans at Mercedes Grand Prix that he hopes will see the team 'surprise a few people'.
Rosberg and Schumacher lapped respectively third and sixth-quickest in FP1 around the Circuit de Catalunya today (Friday), and later sixth and seventh in the afternoon, as the pair completed 126 laps between them and focussed their efforts upon evaluating the raft of upgrades brought to the Mercedes MGP W02 in Barcelona and assessing Pirelli's new hard compound 'Prime' tyre. Both pointed to positive progress.
“It was a good day in terms of set-up, and we learned quite a few things about our car,” reported the younger of the two Germans. “Of course, it's difficult to say where we really are, because the hard tyres didn't work so well today and it was very windy. However, we had a nice long run and our preparation with the car is certainly better compared to the last race. The updates are working quite well so far, and thanks for that to the boys in the factory.”
“We have had quite a reasonable Friday and have clearly demonstrated an upwards tendency, with our improvements seeming to work well,” concurred 'Schumi', just under four tenths of a second adrift of his team-mate at the close of play. “Saying that, the other teams have improved too, so without having had a chance to look deeper into the data, I would say that we may be fighting for the third row. We will continue to work further on our performance for tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, the most successful driver in the history of the sport has reiterated that he has no regrets about his thus far crushingly disappointing return to top flight competition – although in the wake of his calamitous performance in the Turkish Grand Prix a fortnight ago, the 42-year-old has acknowledged that he is still not at '100 per cent' of his potential.
“I have no issues and no problem with anything that is coming up ahead of me now,” he is quoted as having said by AFP
, brushing off media speculation over his future. “Certainly I need to change something in a way that avoids the mistake that I made in Turn One in Turkey, which leads to other things you do over-the-edge. If you are in the flow and everything is right then you feel it – I am aware and I know that I am able to do this – but I know you have to pull it in the right moment of time, and that success rate is not yet 100 per cent.”
With Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug expressing his desire to see Mercedes 'in the top five as in the last two races', team principal Ross Brawn has revealed his hopes that the updates this weekend will enable the Brackley-based outfit to build upon the kind of form that saw Rosberg lead for 16 laps in Shanghai and line up third on the grid in Istanbul.
“We've got a new aero package for Barcelona [and] some things we're doing on the suspension, so I'm confident we'll move forward,” the Englishman told ESPNF1
, “but everyone else is moving forward as well and it's the differentials – can we reduce the differential between ourselves and the front-runners? The last couple of races have been a bit more encouraging, but we haven't quite got everything together yet.
“We wanted to evaluate the new items on the car today, and we have successfully achieved that. It was a pretty comprehensive programme and, as always, we will piece together all of the data tonight and decide how we will approach the rest of the weekend. We've got to find some performance on the car, but today was a reasonable start and I'm optimistic we're going to move forward. We need to see how the next few races go. We've got pretty ambitious plans with the car...”
Brawn is similarly optimistic that once Mercedes does succeed in developing its improving MGP W02 sufficiently to turn it into a consistent challenger for the leading places in F1 2011, then Schumacher's rivals ought to prepare for the seven-time world champion to fly once more.
“[There's no difference] in his approach, not in his commitment, not in his ability,” he reflected, comparing the Michael Schumacher of the dominant late 1990s and early 2000s with the 2011 model. “Obviously the results aren't coming at the moment, but we haven't had the best car. I think that when we can get the car performing at the top level, we're going to surprise a few people.”