While the Mercedes-Benz formula-one team is trying to play down its favouritism for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, the squad’s principal players can’t hide their optimism.
Mercedes set the pace in pre-season testing, but more importantly, the team suffered the least problems bedding in the complex new engine technology at the centre of the most dramatic technical rule changes in formula-one history.
Along with its own strong testing performance, the other teams using Mercedes’s new turbo-charged 1.6-litre V6 motor and ancillary electric booster pack – Williams, Force India and McLaren – were close behind on reliability and speed.
Lead Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is the early favourite for the world championship, with his teammate Nico Rosberg the second fancy among odds-makers.
The team is poised to be a serious challenger for the world title after four years of under-achievement.
The German car-maker bought the 2009 world champion Brawn team and rebranded it with the three-pointed star and signature Silver Arrows livery, but hasn’t come close to repeating the success.
In the unfamiliar territory of being regarded overwhelmingly as the form group ahead of the Melbourne GP, Hamilton, Rosberg and Mercedes AMG F1 team boss Toto Wolff are reluctant to embrace their position.
But their efforts to downplay the significance of making the best preparations amid the unprecedented uncertainty are belied by an underlining confidence.
‘‘It’s exciting times,’’ Hamilton, the 2008 F1 world champion, said on Thursday. ‘‘We’ve had a good winter (three pre-season tests in the northern hemisphere), we’ve done absolutely everything we could possibly do to be as ready as we can.
‘‘We’ll just keep our heads down and keep focusing on what we’re doing and not be disturbed or distracted by what other people are doing, and just stay on track.’’
He added: ‘‘Everyone’s talking us up and everyone’s predicting the future, but we really can’t say what’s going to happen this weekend. We know that we’re strong, we’ve not left any stone unturned.
‘‘We’ve done absolutely everything we can possibly do, so we’re hoping we’re going to be at the front. That’s our goal, but we can’t say that’s going to be the case.’’
Wolff, who has taken over the running of the Mercedes team from founding team principal Ross Brawn, also took a conservative, but still revealing, stance.
‘‘The tricky bit is that I think we can be confident in terms of sheer performance and the team has prepared well – we have seen that in testing – but we haven’t raced yet,’’ he said. ‘‘You know, you have to keep the expectation low with such a change of regulations because if you head into the week being foolish with your pink (rose-coloured) glasses (on) and saying ‘This is our year and we are going to destroy everybody else’, it would be not the right attitude.
‘‘We have had five or six race simulations (in testing) and we finished two. Of course, it is good and satisfying being up in the front of testing, but it doesn’t mean that we will be up in the front on Saturday or on Sunday.
‘‘So this is why we have to hold back the optimism at this stage and see how it pans out here and in Malaysia (the second race in two weeks).’’
Rosberg cited Mercedes’s strong pre-season form going into last year’s Australian GP as a cautionary lesson.
‘‘We were sitting here (at this time last year) and exactly the same was being said, and we got completely blown away in the first race,’’ said Rosberg, who went on to win two races in Mercedes’s best season yet.
‘‘We just don’t know where some of the competition is, just like last year. So we have to be careful, go into it optimistic as we are, but open-minded and see how it goes and hope to have a fantastic start.’’