Sport : F1

Mercedes GP

27th February 2014, 08:38am

Mercedes finally established themselves as a front-running force last season and now all eyes are on the famous German manufacturer in 2014 to see if they are poised to steal a march on the field in F1's new era.

After three seasons back as a team owner, marked by underachievement for a marque of their motorsport pedigree, the stunning signing of Lewis Hamilton and a much more competitive 2013 car galvanised Mercedes last year and the team impressed en-route to winning three races and beating Ferrari to second place in the Constructors' Championship.

But it has long been 2014 and the dramatic powertrain regulation changes that the season ushers in that both Mercedes, and the wider F1 paddock, have been expecting by far their biggest statement of intent. Just one question now remains: will their turbo-charged V6 power unit live up to the hype?

In truth, it was a surprise to many that more immediate success didn't arrive on Mercedes' return to team ownership in 2010, particularly as they bought newly-crowned double World Champions Brawn GP.

The ingredients for glory seemed to be in place: a manufacturer giant writing the cheques, a multiple championship-winning team boss in Ross Brawn in charge and the return of F1's most successful driver Michael Schumacher behind the wheel after three years in retirement.

But what will now be known as 'the Schumacher years' from 2010 to 2012 proved an undoubted letdown. With the seven-times World Champion, now in his forties, clearly not the force of old, Mercedes in any case failed to produce a car capable of challenging Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari race-in, race-out.

A first win for the German manufacturer as a team owner since the famous 'Silver Arrows' of 1955 did finally arrive - at the 41st attempt - at the 2012 Chinese GP, courtesy of Nico Rosberg. But that performance proved the glorious exception rather than the more mundane rule and having delayed a decision on his future, Schumacher was effectively bumped into permanent retirement as Mercedes pulled off the coup of luring 2008 World Champion Hamilton from McLaren.

While their new star driver was expecting little more than a low-key bedding-in year given his new employers had just finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship, the W04's pace surprised in pre-season testing and Hamilton qualified third on the grid behind only the Red Bulls in Melbourne, before finishing a promising fifth in the race.

A stunning run of pole positions - eight out of nine from China to Belgium between Hamilton and Rosberg - underlined the car's single-lap prowess, but only three of those were converted into race wins (Monaco, Britain and Hungary) with the W04 at times experiencing chronic tyre degradation over the longer Sunday distances.

Still, only runaway Red Bull invariably proved out of reach over the season and the runner-up finish to F1's standard-bearing team confirmed that concrete progress had finally been made.

The departure of the vastly experienced and respected Brawn after a season of speculation has left what Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda has himself admitted as a "big hole" for new joint bosses Paddy Lowe and Toto Wolff to fill. But the continuing presence of one of F1's strongest driver pairings and all the promise of their turbocharged V6 mean there are no longer any excuses for Mercedes in 2014. A sustained title challenge is a pre-requisite.

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