Mercedes Grand Prix is 'about a second' away from the outright pace in F1 2011 heading towards the final pre-season test in Barcelona next week, estimates Ross Brawn - but the Englishman maintains that the team is 'as quietly confident as we can be' and will be able to bridge that gap.

Despite some headline-grabbing, ostensibly low-fuel lap times during testing thus far - most notably from Michael Schumacher at Jerez last month, with the German legend ending the four-day group session second-quickest out of some 24 drivers - the general paddock consensus is that the new Mercedes MGP W02 is far from the potent force the team would like it to be.

That is a fact that has not been concealed by either Schumacher - who has confessed that he is 'slightly concerned' - or Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, who admits that at present, the car 'is not good enough for the top ten' [see separate story - click here]. CEO Nick Fry has similarly told Reuters that 'performance, obviously from what we've seen on the track, at the moment is not as good as we would like'.

Team principal Brawn concurs with those candid assessments, but has sought to point out that the plan has always been to hold the major upgrades back until the last test in order to first prioritise reliability, and then performance. Barcelona, he hopes, will offer a more accurate reading.

"It is very hard to judge because of different fuel weights," the 56-year-old told BBC Radio. "Tyres are going to be very important, and most sensible teams have been running with high fuel loads, because that's where you get the highest degradation, that's when you stress the tyres the most and that's where you want to find a good solution. We said when we started [testing] that we had some things to learn on KERS and tyres and that we were going to start with a fairly plain car, and you'll see in Barcelona something quite different.

"It's been pretty difficult to judge where everyone is. At the last test in Barcelona, we had a go at running low-fuel and the super-soft tyres and we were the second-quickest car, but I don't think that's where we are overall. I think we're about a second off where we want to be, and where we want to be is mixing it at the front. We've got to find a second in the upgrade, which we think we can do, but you never know what other people are going to do as well.

"Everybody's going to have new bits in Barcelona. If somebody does come through with a radical innovation that none of the other teams has thought about, then it can change things, but we set out our plan and we'll know when we get to Melbourne whether the plan was right. It's fun to speculate at the moment, but it's very difficult. We're as quietly confident as we can be. We think our strategy is correct, to approach it the way we have, and we'll all know when we get to the first race."

Brawn did not comment upon rumours that the upgrade package to which he refers - incorporating a new exhaust layout - has failed the mandatory FIA crash tests, but he did stress that record-breaking seven-time F1 World Champion Schumacher has not lost faith in the Brackley-based outfit.

"He's very motivated, very committed," underlined the man who has helped to tactically guide and engineer 'Schumi' to each and every one of his drivers' crowns in the top flight to-date, at Benetton and Ferrari. "That steely determination we often see with Michael is there in spades.

"He's also been part of the plan - he's understood what we've been putting together. He knows what we're doing and he knows why we're doing what we're doing. We may get egg on our face, we may turn up in Melbourne and it hasn't come together, but we're optimistic."



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