It was all going to be so easy. The reigning world champion team, the support of a major manufacturer and the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1 all came together under the direction of arguably the most brilliant technical leader in modern motorsport and most expected the results to live up to the sum of the team's parts. But it wasn't easy... not by a long shot.
While it would be unfair to characterise Mercedes GP's 2010 season as disastrous, it was not a great year. Three podium finishes, all taken by Nico Rosberg, one front-row start, again courtesy of the impressive ex-Williams driver, and fourth in the constructors' championship under pressure from Renault was not the stuff that the Stuttgart/Brackley alliance was created to deliver. Pretty much the only real success story was Rosberg emerging as a driver capable of delivering at a high-level week in, week out.
So what went wrong?
1. Inflated expectations
During pre-season testing, everyone was still talking about a big four, but all along Mercedes was heading for a spot in the midfield mire scrapping with Renault and Williams. The car was quite simply not fast enough, nor was it ever a serious challenger to Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.
Mercedes trailed the leaders from the outset © LAT
In Bahrain, Rosberg's fifth place looked okay on paper, but he was over a second from pole in qualifying. Was the world champion team really so far off the pace? It was - and if you look back to the events of 2009, you can see why. Ross Brawn himself admits that it was almost inevitable that the team would struggle.
"You always reap what you sewed the year before in terms of car design and performance," he says. "It's fair to say that in 2009, our priority was obviously to establish the long-term future of the company and win the championships. There was very little capacity to develop the future car.
"We were also going through a pretty major reorganisation that year. In March/April, we had to make 300 people redundant and that also meant that our structure probably wasn't optimised around the size that we were.
"What we've been doing since is to build the structure for the future. We've paid the price for the circumstances that we have been in and I think that it was probably predictable. A lot more time, effort and planning is going into next year's car."
The final stages of that reorganisation are still being completed, with race engineers Jock Clear and Andrew Shovlin set to take senior engineering roles and Tony Ross and Mark Slade recruited from Williams and Renault respectively to work with Rosberg and Schumacher.
"There will be some changes on the race team engineering wise this year," Brawn explained. "It's about developing the people that we have and other people will be given an opportunity. I consider the changes very natural - although I have no problems with the engineering team. I just want to strengthen other areas of the company as we have other areas related to racing that we are putting a massive effort into."
2. The wrong concept
To an extent, Mercedes was also the victim of its own success. The 2009 Brawn blew the opposition out of the water during the first part of last season, which suggested that it had got the best out of the new-for-2009 regulations.
Mercedes' predecessor Brawn had started 2009 in dominant form © LAT
It hadn't. The double diffuser was a brilliantly-implemented idea and much of the cash that Honda would have poured into the development of its dreadful 2008 car was diverted into the Brawn BGP001 early. It was, quite simply, several months up the road and that gap was soon closed down by the rest. It had got the best out of what was a pretty good base package, but Adrian Newey's RB5 concept had the greater potential.
Brawn agrees that "it's possible" that the shortcomings of the 2009 car were masked by the unique circumstances of the season - particularly as the team's form tailed off in the second half of that year amid tyre warm-up problems that themselves made it difficult to detect the car's other weaknesses.
"The tyres changed in 2010 and the compounds are more forgiving in terms of the temperature range that they operate in, so that's good for us," said Brawn. "It could be that some of the strengths or weaknesses of last year's cars carried through."
While the 2010 tyres helped in terms of temperature, the Mercedes MGP W01's weight distribution was off at the start of the year. After the opening four flyaways, the introduction of a longer wheelbase by angling the front suspension forward, shifting the weight back, improved matters, but from the start the car was on an unstable footing. The team that had been the first to benefit from the double diffuser did not keep pace with development and its compact gearbox was not long enough to put together the best package at the rear of the car. In short, from the moment of the car's birth, there were characteristics that would always hold the team back.
The F-Duct proved troublesome for Mercedes © Sutton
By Brawn's own admission, the developments introduced during the season didn't deliver. Often Mercedes was left chasing its tail on upgrades to the exhaust blown diffuser and the F-duct. The car itself featured some visually fussy aero features - a sign that the overall aerodynamic regime of the chassis was not quite what it should be.
Next year, Brawn is keen to improve the effectiveness of its developments and ensure that parts work in the real world when bolted onto the car.
"If you look at the blown diffuser and the F-duct rear wing, they are areas that expose the weaknesses of the team," said Brawn before the Italian Grand Prix. "That's a good thing because you realise where you are weak in some areas where we don't have the strength that we need. We are rectifying that.
"We have fallen behind in our application of those ideas. The engineering group has been improved to give us a better chance of success in those areas."
Crucially, Merc realised early in 2010 that it wasn't going to be winning races. Expect the MPG W02 to be a much revised machine and, therefore, a big step forward.
3. The Schumacher 'flop'
It's harsh to liken Michael Schumacher's underwhelming return to the catastrophic 'wooden racket in a high-tech world' debacle of tennis superstar Bjorn Borg's comeback, but so high were expectations that it felt to many like just such a farce.
Schumacher was central to Mercedes GP's plans and ultimately his lack of results will go down as one of the stories of the season. But to call it a failure is grossly unfair. Having not raced a car in anger for three-and-a-half years, he did a decent enough job in 2010. The trouble is, everyone expected an exceptional one and he was thrashed by the impressive Rosberg.
Schumacher overstepped the mark in Hungary © Sutton
The season started positively enough, but during the middle stages of the season, from Canada onwards, Schumacher started to get caught up in a few too many scrapes. The nadir was at the Hungaroring, where only some millimetre-perfect driving from Rubens Barrichello prevented a major accident.
By the end of the European season, most had stopped paying attention, but the seven-time world champion's run to the end of the year was much improved. There were even days where he was able to eclipse Rosberg. A fourth place in the Korean Grand Prix showed that the 41-year-old was still willing to put it on the line in difficult conditions and his strong finish means that he heads into the 2011 season with some cause for optimism.
While the 'weak' front Bridgestones were blamed for his struggles and some portray the more oversteery Pirellis as the solution to all of his problems, the 2011 car will be the key. A more competitive, better-balanced car that allows him to attack the corner at turn-in, like the Schuey of old, could give him the platform to recapture past glories. In a way, must we consider 2010 a rookie season for the second-most prolific grand prix starter in world championship history - especially considering the severity of his motorbike accident in February 2009 that he was fortunate to escape from with his life?
"In one way, you could probably argue that it was a rookie season, but in other ways it was certainly not," says Schumacher. "We have a very clear view and very clear targets that we want to achieve and we feel that this year, we were behind this path because we were expecting to achieve more. But we know the reasons for that and much more important is what happens from here on."
Schumacher clearly still feels that he has an F1 future. After all, as Brawn has said "he's still got something in him to surprise people."
It's hard to disagree with that assessment.
As for Mercedes, questions will be asked in Stuttgart if the team doesn't up its game in 2011. But that leaves us back where we started. As the sum of its parts, this team has the potential to win championships. It might just have needed a little longer to gel than everyone expected.
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