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Back to business for Mercedes


On the surface, a second consecutive winter of minimal regulatory change may appear to ease the pressure on the Formula One community. The reality, however, is quite the opposite. Progress under such conditions is a game of diminishing returns - making the quest for every millisecond of performance ever-more crucial.

"The biggest challenge for the team over the winter has been finding how we can extract more performance from what was already a very strong Power Unit and chassis concept", confirms Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff. "The regulations have remained mostly stable for another year, so the development curve has naturally started to level out slightly. But as a group of competitive racers, this is the sort of challenge we love - to find every last bit of performance.

"After the success of the past two seasons, the obvious target is to build on what we have achieved so far - to continue to win races and Championships. But you can never take anything for granted in this sport - or rely on past success. Right now, all points are reset to zero. We haven't even begun testing yet, so we have no benchmark against the competition. But we can be certain that they will be stronger than ever, so we need to do the best job out there. In Melbourne, we will see. As they say, when the flag drops...

"We gained confidence after the first Championship title in 2014 and therefore approached 2015 in a slightly different way. But our core philosophy remained the same and 2016 is no different. We are confident in our people - but we always take a 'glass half empty' approach. We remain humble, feet on the ground, pushing hard to develop everything from the cars to our wider capability as an organisation in the long term."

In the cockpit, the Brackley squad maintains an unchanged driver line-up with reigning World Drivers' Champion Lewis Hamilton once again paired with two-time title runner-up Nico Rosberg. Having locked horns for the Championship in each of the past two campaigns, this intra-team contest is sure to provide a fascinating plot line once more in 2016.

"The battle between Lewis and Nico is both interesting and challenging for us", confirms Toto. "If you put two competitive drivers in the same team and they have a shot at the Championship, it's never going to be an easy ride. Not only do we accept that, we embrace it. We also understand that it's important for the spectators to see top drivers given both the tools they need to succeed and the freedom to race. This is what we've done for the past two years and will continue to do this year. They are both professionals. They know that there is a big organisation and a very powerful brand behind them and the team. I hope that the close competition between them will continue as it has done."

And the talent in the Silver Arrows stable doesn't stop at the wheel of the W07, either. Mercedes-Benz Juniors Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon head into the year with a fresh set of challenges to tackle in their development paths with the three-pointed star.

"Looking to the future, we are in both the fortunate and unfortunate position of having developed two of the very best junior drivers in the world but having no race seats available within our team", says Toto. "We're therefore delighted to have found them another route into Formula One to continue their growth in the best possible environment. Pascal has a race seat with Manor - a team with great people but one much smaller than Mercedes and with a very different structure to what he's been used to, so he needs to prove that he has the calibre to be a successful Formula One driver in a new environment. Esteban, alongside his role in DTM, will be Third Driver with Renault - taking part in a couple of Friday practice sessions and tests to make the next step in his development. It's great to see young drivers progressing all the way to Formula One on merit, through the support of manufacturers and proven programmes like the Red Bull Junior model. Hopefully this proves to be a productive year for them."

Further afield, there's change on the horizon for the pinnacle of motorsport. With 2017 set to buck the trend of regulatory stability, the future direction of Formula One is a hot topic throughout the paddock. And there are plenty of positive stories for the current season too...

"We are open to changes in the regulations", says Toto. "On the Power Unit side we are perhaps a little more conservative because, when the teams and the FIA decided to introduce the V6 Hybrid package a few years ago, it was clear that a considerable development budget would need to be deployed. All four manufacturers did so relying on those rules - and now we need stability to protect that investment. On the chassis side and aerodynamic side, we embrace new challenges as long as they make sense. It's important that the cars are quicker - that was demanded of the Strategy Group. But also that we still have overtaking and that driving becomes more of a challenge again. But putting these things into regulations is not easy.

"In the here and now, there are a lot of positive stories in Formula One at the moment. As a sport, I don't think we talk about these enough. The return of Renault as a fully-fledged works team is great news - as is the arrival of Haas, which will hopefully help raise awareness of the sport in the States. For Mercedes as a brand, going back to Germany and finally being able to race in front of our home crowd again is brilliant. And then we have a new race in Baku, where most of us have never been before but which I'm sure will be an interesting experience. We have a 21 race calendar taking in almost all corners of the world, which will be a challenge for those working within the sport but provides a fantastic showcase for Formula One."

Their duel has enthralled Formula One fans the world over for two years in a row. But, after the longest winter break in their careers to date, how are Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg shaping up for battle in 2016?

"The highlight of the winter break has been the break! No racing - just family, friends and snowboarding", smiles Lewis. "My pre-season training regime has been a little different this year. It varies - sometimes you start a little earlier, sometimes a little later. Last year I actually stopped training after Austin and started enjoying myself a bit more instead. So, where I would usually start training again around the 22nd December after an end-of-season rest, this time I got back into it on the first of the month. I was able to have a bit of a break over Christmas - but then got straight on it again in January. It's mostly been cardio to keep my weight down, as I bulk up really quickly with weight training. Running, hiking and even some boxing - which was a new and pretty intense experience!"

"I had a great winter break - spending a lot of time with family", says Nico. "I spent most of it at home with my young daughter - that's the best place in the world to me! I've been training hard too, of course. The first day after last season finished was when 2016 started for me, so I've really been getting into that and bringing myself up to speed for the new season.

"The winter is when you really need to build up your fitness as, for the rest of the season, you're really just trying to hold it at that level. There's not really enough time to properly increase your fitness once we're on the road, so this is a crucial time of year and you have to use it as effectively as you can. I've mainly been doing endurance work - swimming and cycling, some weight training for the specific racing muscles like the neck and then reaction training with lots of Ping-Pong!"

And that preparation will be more important than ever this year. A record-breaking Grand Prix calendar is set to stretch drivers and teams alike - with some welcome additions to the schedule also in the mix...

"I'm really glad the German Grand Prix is back on the calendar for 2016", says Nico. "A Formula One World Championship without the German Grand Prix just doesn't feel right. It's a country full of racing fanatics and, being German myself, I really enjoy driving there. I won at Hockenheim two years ago and I can't wait to and try to do that again in front of our Mercedes-Benz home fans. Then there's a new race in Baku, which is exciting for everybody. I've heard good things about the city and the country, plus it looks like a great track too. As always with a new venue, it'll be a good challenge that we'll need to adapt to as we don't fully know what to expect.

"There are 21 races this year, which is great for the fans and for us drivers. But there's a limit to everything and I think that's more or less the maximum now. Thinking about everyone in the team - all the mechanics and engineers, who work so hard on the cars when we're on the road - it becomes too much time away from home and their families. It's probably ok for now - but we need to make sure it doesn't become too much for them."

"I love racing, so I always welcome more races", adds Lewis. But it's going to be a gruelling season with 21 rounds. It's tough on the team, as they're working so hard and staying away from their families for so long. The cars will be pushed further too and, for the drivers, there are more points to be won and lost, meaning the fight for the Championship will be even more challenging and open than it has been in the past. Plus, we get to see a new city in Baku and head back to one of our home races in Germany - both of which I'm really looking forward to. It should be a great season."

Of course, the journey to Azerbaijan, Germany and beyond begins right here and now in Barcelona. And both Lewis and Nico have a brand new set of wheels for the ride...

"I've been racing a long time - but when you get to drive a new car for the first time it's still really exciting", beams Lewis. "It's like when you buy a new road car and drive it home for the first time."

"It's such an exciting experience, getting behind the wheel of a new car for the first time", adds Nico. "Especially right now, when you know there's a good chance you'll have a winner on your hands. By the time you get out on track you've seen so many drawings and sat in so many hours of meetings discussing every little detail of the car that to finally get in there and feel it is incredible. I really look forward to that moment, every year."

Naturally, both drivers will be hoping the latest Silver Arrow has the necessary credentials to carry them all the way through the 21 race calendar towards the title. And despite holding 57 Grand Prix victories, 128 podiums, 71 pole positions, 130 front row starts and 42 fastest race laps between them, the motivation to add to those figures is as strong as ever.

"It seems crazy that I'll be starting my 200th Formula One race this year in Singapore", says Nico. "It's been a great voyage so far and I'm looking forward to many more to come. Maybe I'll even have a small celebration in Singapore. But really, that's not an important number. I'll save the big party for a Championship win. I've had the car to help me realise that dream twice now but haven't quite been able to bring everything together - yet. I've proven I can win, I've proven I can fight and I've proven I can bounce back. I'm absolutely focused and determined that this can be my year."

"I don't really think too much about stats - but it's definitely a great feeling when people bring up these numbers as it reminds me of everything I've achieved", Lewis reflects. "It's crazy to think I am where I am now. Just the other day I was watching a clip of myself karting as a kid somewhere in the UK, talking about all the things I'd do if I ever made it to Formula One. I'm living the dream. Not just for myself - but hopefully for people of all backgrounds and ages who have ever wanted to achieve this goal.

"Motivation applies to different things in different ways for me. When it comes to racing, it's simple, as I'm just super competitive. But, when I'm training on my own for example, it can be tough to resist the temptation to let things slip. Every year you have to try to find new sources of inspiration to motivate yourself. I'm very lucky in that I have opportunities in life to find that inspiration in lots of different people, places and experiences - be it meeting fans and icons, travelling to an amazing landmark or seeing a great movie. I'm just as pumped as ever for this season."

The final throes of 2015 saw a swing in momentum between the pair on track. But can either take control in the opening exchanges of the new season?

"I'm not really too fussed about what happened in the final few races of 2015 as it didn't affect my Championship", say Lewis. "Of course, I love winning and that's always the goal - but to be honest my attention was elsewhere at that point. It had been such a successful season and you can't win them all, so that was my feeling at the end of the year. If anything, it motivated me. It made me think "okay, next year Nico is going to be super quick and super strong, so I've got to make sure I raise the bar again." That's the big question - how do you do that? I've achieved it in each of the last two years - but to do it again for a third time will be tough, no doubt. That's the unknown - but I've been in the simulator recently and thankfully I can still drive, so that's a start!"

"It was a great end to the season for me last year", adds Nico. "I'm always adapting and modifying my approach and I found a bit of a better way in the final few race weekends, so the aim is of course to try to continue that in 2016. Unfortunately, with a new year and a new car a lot of things have changed, so it's difficult to say whether you can carry things you were doing before across - but let's see what happens. I'm certainly optimistic. I'm looking for that key to unlocking the final step to the title all the time and I will fight for it again this year. The opposition will be strong, of course. Lewis is doing a great job and we need to keep an eye on Ferrari as well. But with the team that we have and the cars I know they can build, I've always got a shot."


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