One of the more puzzling stories of this season has been the relatively poor performance of the team that won last year's world championship, back when it was called Brawn rather than Mercedes.
A lot of theories have been put forward to explain it: that last year was just a blip created by the specific circumstances of the Brawn BGP 001's creation, in that it had a longer gestation period than any other car, had more windtunnel hours devoted to its design - and into the bargain received the 11th-hour gift of Formula 1's best engine. Then there's the line that so preoccupied was the management with overseeing the team's change of ownership at the end of last year that the 2010 car's gestation rather got overlooked.
The best person to ask for a definitive take on the matter is surely Ross Brawn, and with the perspective of most of the season to look back upon, he's remarkably up-front in his assessment of Mercedes' season.
"I think if you look at the normal process of car development, somewhere there is a core of an idea of what sort of a car you want to create," he says, "and then all the various departments contribute to achieving that vision.
"I think during 2008 because the regs were very different, we got the '09 vision very easily but in '09 we didn't have enough clarity about what we wanted to do.
"So the car became a bit of a compromise in all sorts of areas - and that was largely down to me. We changed the team quite a lot at the start of '09 and I hadn't put in place a robust enough engineering strategy to give the clarity that was needed to design the car, so we ended up with not a bad car but not a great car. The difference between an average car and a great one is half a second or so, and that's what we've been trailing by all year."
In his defence, the robust engineering strategy he feels was lacking was a very difficult thing to put in place when a great swathe of key engineering staff had been made redundant in the early part of 2009. Once the build, the tests and the first races of the Brawn were completed, 40 per cent of the 700 staff were made redundant. As an independent team it could not continue to carry boom-time manufacturer levels of staffing.
Ross Brawn © LAT
"In the interests of fairness, we simply said that every department had to lose 40 per cent," said Brawn, something regretfully. "It was as crude as that. We had no other mechanism to go through the company and say, two from here, five from there."
A lot of good people were lost in that cull, not necessarily big names, but engineers that were a crucial part of forming a team's backbone, that helped ensure their departments could run with a certain degree of autonomy. The group that was left was not only shellshocked by the cull and the loss of several key working relationships, but had to establish a whole new dynamic.
Into that mix throw in the departure of a senior member of the engineering staff - Jorg Zander, who left early last year - and it's not really so surprising in hindsight that the car was a little unadventurous. Its gearbox, for example, was too short to make really aggressive use of the twin diffuser.
But now that all this has been recognised, Ross sounds extremely upbeat about 2011's prospects. "The engineering group has been reorganised," he says, "and I now feel we've got a vision of what we want to do. There's a much better structure there.
"What I'm seeing now from our group is much more aggressive solutions which are well engineered so there's no compromise in what we want to achieve. So I think next year we've been pretty bold on what sort of car we want to create and we've got a good enough engineering structure now to support the ideas, whereas this time last year we couldn't have done those ideas."
So a return to race-winning form for the Brackley team in 2011?
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