Mercedes took the covers off their F1 W04 yesterday and Nico Rosberg gave the new car a shakedown run around the Spanish track. The German, winner of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix, endured an inconsistent campaign last year after Mercedes started the year in a very competitive position before gradually fading into the midfield.
The team will know that a repeat of such failings will be disastrous this year and Team Principal, Ross Brawn, will know that with Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff having been brought into the team that his future will be under scrutiny. Brawn however is focussed on finding performance from the new car:
“2013 marks the start of a second era for our Silver Arrows works team,” said Brawn. “The restructuring we undertook at the team over the past 18 months are now growing in maturity and this is reflected in the F1 W04, which is a clear step forward in design and detail sophistication over its predecessor.
Many thousands of hours of work have been invested by our technical teams in Brackley and Brixworth to ensure that the new car delivers a step change in performance compared to last season. We are also hugely proud to welcome Lewis to the team as a works Mercedes-Benz driver. With Lewis and Nico, we have what I believe to be the strongest driver line-up in Formula One and I know that a healthy level of competition between them both will help drive the team forward.”
The team made a high profile move to hire Lewis Hamilton as Rosberg’s partner and while the chances of Hamilton challenging for the title is slim he also gives the team a focal point for development. Hamilton will expect that this season will be difficult but he will expect, and demand, that he is in a position to challenge for race wins.
“It’s a very special day for me to officially present our Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow to the world,” said Hamilton. “There is no company with a longer history in Grand Prix racing than Mercedes-Benz and it is an honour for me to tread in the footsteps of legends like Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss and Michael Schumacher. It’s the start of a new chapter for me, a new adventure, and when I walked through the doors in Brackley, I was so excited to get down to work.”
There will be a lot of work to be done at Mercedes and one thing that the team will have to focus on is the development path for the new car. Throughout their existence in various guises as BAR, Honda, Brawn and Mercedes the Barckley based team has consistently been unable to keep their development processes on pace of the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Even in their title winning 2009 season they lost their billing as the fastest car on the grid to Red Bull as the year progressed. With Hamilton on board, and future world titles obviously the target, it will be crucial that the team can keep the pace of development consistent with other leading teams otherwise they will be destined to repeat their failings of the past.
Toro Rosso also launched their car yesterday. The team will retain Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne for a second season. Both drivers are Red Bull backed and this is probably their last chance to prove to Helmet Marko that they deserve an opportunity as a Red Bull Racing driver in future.
Marko has been ruthless throughout his time as the chief talent scout for Red Bull and anything less then top notch performances is likely to see the end of support to both drivers. Marko clearly demands that a second Sebastian Vettel will be found through their young driver development programme and he has taken away the support of Red Bull to countless drivers. The pressure will be on both Toro Rosso drivers to prove they are capable of retaining such support in future.
At the launch Luca Furbatto, the chief designer said:
“Development was rather limited in 2012 and this was because the STR7’s distinctive sidepod design, although initially looking quite good, later proved difficult to develop, so that we reached a plateau during the season.”
The team will also have the experienced James Key on hand as Technical Director. The Englishman has served his “gardening leave” from McLaren and he should be able to offer their design office a lot of structure and leadership. Key was a crucial factor in the improvement that the Swiss squad enjoyed over the last three years.
Repeating that improvement is possible at Toro Rosso, particularly with the squad admitting that they are in negotiations with Renault for engines and KERS next season.
This was earmarked in mid 2012 in my interview with the team’s Technical Director, Mark Smith. Finding improvement throughout the season will obviously be difficult but with major regulation changes on the horizon it may be prudent for the small Caterham team to instead focus their attention on their 2014.
At the launch of the new car Smith talked about how the team balanced a need for speed in 2013 with the change of facilities and stability of regulations allowed them to update last year’s car.
“CT03 is the first car we have produced in the Leafield Technical Centre so it marks an important milestone in the development of our team,” said the Englishman. “The season ahead presented us with an interesting challenge early in the design process as it is the last year of the current regulations before the introduction of the new engine rules in 2014.
“With that in mind we decided that CT03 would be an evolution of CT01 rather than a complete re-design, allowing us to focus our resources on developing areas of last year’s package where opportunities would give us the greatest return, whilst also beginning work on the 2014 package.”
Smith also stressed that while the new car is an upgrade of last year’s model it does incorporate various new developments:
“We have made a number of significant changes to the car that takes it from the package that gained us tenth place in the 2012 Championship in Brazil into CT03. Among the most obvious are around the lower chassis where the sidepods have been significantly undercut to improve airflow to the rear of the car. The diffuser, engine cover and cooling exits have also seen major changes and there are more subtle improvements to other areas of the car, such as the sidepod turning vanes and the lower tea-tray area. This is the package we will take to race one in Australia and as part of the 2013 upgrade program we will then bring new front and rear wings and a new diffuser soon after the start of the season.”
The team will field an all new driver lineup with Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde replacing Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov. Pic was impressive last year for Marussia, where he was more than capable of matching Timo Glock, while van der Garde has been promoted from his role as reserve driver.
Along with the all new driver lineup this will also mark Cyril Abiteboul’s first full season as Team Principal. The Frenchman, formally of Renault, is looking forward to the challenges of leading the team:
“This is the first car we have produced since I joined the team so this is a proud day for me. I am very pleased that we have been able to allocate our resources and budgets as efficiently as possible to produce a car that will allow us to consolidate our position in Formula One whilst also starting work on the 2014 car as early as possible.”
Marussia also launched their 2013 car with the team’s new car born in a transition period for the squad. Last year they split with their previous designer Nick Wirth after numerous issues with their first two cars. After focusing on CFD for the design of their first car, at the expense of using wind tunnels, the team sacked Wirth last year and developed their car using more traditional methods.
Their improvements during the year saw them catch and pass Caterham and Marussia, so often derided, were tenth in the Constructors’ Championship until the final race of the season. Even though Caterham pipped them to tenth the signs of improvement were clear and their new car should allow them to outpace their rivals`.
The new car will also see the team use KERS for the first time which should give them a significant performance advantage.