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Mat Coch writes:
Developing the car to better use its tyres is critical to seeing Mercedes remain competitive at the front of the grid, according to Ross Brawn.
The story which has dominated the 2012 season has been the unpredictability of the racing, owing much to the teams struggle to understand and get the best out of the Pirelli tyres. It's proved a task few have been capable of getting on top of, with Fernando Alonso the only driver to have scored points in every race thus far this year.
"This year it seems somehow you can come to a race and the relative order changes," said Brawn on Thursday. "Some of the teams are being more consistent in their point scoring now and their performance, Fernando in particular seems to have, so we do need to improve the car."
The increased level of competition is hurting teams who fail to 'switch on' the rubber, compounding even the slightest mistake. "We finished 29 seconds, I think, behind the leader in Hockenheim but there were a lot of cars in between us and the leader. In previous years that would have been different."
"It's not like in the past where being half a second off the leader you would have maybe been second on the podium," agreed Michael Schumacher, "now the field is much closer together and you find yourself in seventh."
Mercedes has typically struggled on high fuel, while proving quick on all compounds of the Pirelli rubber once the load lightens. "What is the reason for this?" Schumacher continued. "We don't know, quite frankly, but with every race and every practice session we understand the car a little bit more.
"Maybe our car is a little bit more difficult to extract and we have to work harder for it than other cars."
"I think we're still not quite in that right group of tyre usage," added Brawn. "It's much, much better than it was but we're still not quite in that right group."
The Englishman however refuses to believe that his team can't return to the front of the pack where it was a feature for the early part of the season. "If you look at our 29 seconds over 67 laps it was just over four tenths of a second.
"We've made an extra stop," he continued. "That extra stop gives you more tyre performance so if we had three or four tenths we would have been fighting for the race in Hockenheim. Three or four tenths is a big upgrade but it is achievable."
The team has shuffled its priorities to place more focus on the 2012 car, a move Brawn says is standard practice as the season progresses depending where the team is relative to where it believes it should be. However the key remains understanding the tyres, the Englishman citing Red Bull's performance at Hockenheim as an example.
"Why did Mark (Webber) struggle and Sebastian (Vettel) was competitive," he said. "He just didn't do the lap times that the other car was capable of doing. We do our analysis after the race and he certainly wasn't as strong as the other car."
Managing degradation combined with continued development of its car should see the German team claw its way back to the front of the grid. With warmer conditions forecast this weekend, something that Brawn believes should suit the Mercedes, the team will be looking for a strong performance heading in to the summer break.
Check out our Thursday gallery, here.
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