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Mercedes DNA: Honda, or Brawn?

NEWS STORY
30/03/2011

When Mercedes announced its intention to return to Formula 1 for the first time since 1955, they were granted automatic entry into that exclusive club known as the Big Four.

After all, with Ross Brawn at the helm, fresh off the back of a double championship win, and seven-time drivers' championship winner Michael Schumacher as the presumed lead driver, it was assumed that the Silver Arrows would pick up where Brawn GP left off.

It hardly takes a Formula 1 expert to tell you that they did not.

But despite a disappointing 2010 season, in which the previously under-rated Nico Rosberg outperformed his teammate on all counts, and the car had no chance of winning a race, the 2011 off-season saw Mercedes included among the probable frontrunners once again. Ross Brawn's Midas touch is not to be underestimated.

Pre-season testing was a mixed bag for Mercedes. In the early sessions, there was no doubt that the silver car was off the pace and had reliability concerns to boot. But when the teams grouped in Barcelona for the final winter session, it looked as though the boys from Brackley had cracked it. Nico Rosberg did 100 laps on the first day, and reliability was looking good. By day four, Michael Schumacher was top of the timesheets, four-tenths clear of Fernando Alonso in P2.

Despite these signs of promise, the Silver Arrows had an unfortunate start to the 2011 Formula 1 season. The Australian Grand Prix saw the team log its first double retirement since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, and Sunday's disappointment was compounded by poor results in Saturday's qualifying and practice times that averaged out at 1s off the pace in every session.

Of course, this being Formula 1, poor results are relative. HRT would have given their eye teeth to be one second off the pace of the leaders, and many teams would be pleased to see one driver make it through to Q3. But for the Big Four, anything other than best just simply isn't good enough.

But it would take a fool - and one with no sense of recent F1 history - to write off Ross Brawn and co. While Brawn's 2009 success might turn out to be an aberration in the history of Brackley-based teams, it will take more than 20 races across two seasons before such a conclusion can be safely drawn.

It was thanks in no small part to Ross Brawn's efforts that his eponymous team was able to break Honda's bad luck cycle and dominate the 2009 season. Given time, he should be able to do it again.

However, with Ross Brawn having sold his stake in the team - he is now off the Mercedes board to boot - there are signs that the German owners are on course to repeat Honda's mistakes. Regular shuffles in the management structure, competing corporate interests, and the need to answer to shareholders based in a foreign country were all factors in Honda's lack of F1 success.

Mercedes GP have the potential to benefit from Brawn DNA, but from this writer's perspective it looks as though backroom struggles mean they are willingly reliving Honda's legacy, despite the best efforts of Schumacher, Rosberg, and Brawn himself.

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