[F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MERCEDES: CONFIDENCE WAVE

The new Mercedes is yet to break cover, with the W09 being unveiled this week, but the squad is hopeful its hard work has again paid off.

SOUNDBITE (English) TOTO WOLFF,
HEAD OF MOTORSPORT, MERCEDES:
“It’s always a very exciting time, because what has been designed is coming together - and is coming alive.”

The engine has already been fired up for the first time - and expectations for 2018 are high – given stable technical regulations, and the team’s crushing display at last year’s final race in Abu Dhabi…

…where Valtteri Bottas took his third win, ahead of Lewis Hamilton for the team’s fourth one-two result of the season.

It’s an ominous sign with Mercedes reigning four-time World Constructors’ Champions – and the only F1 team in history to retain dominance through a major technical regulation overhaul.

And it’s been a far more relaxed off-season for the outfit, too, compared to the total upheaval caused by Nico Rosberg announcing his retirement just five days after winning his world title in 2016.

SOUNDBITE (English) TOTO WOLFF,
HEAD OF MOTORSPORT, MERCEDES:
"It was a bit of a curve ball that Nico [Rosberg] threw at us in December [2016]. We were all expecting to stop racing, go back to the factory, spend the weeks there with a normal office job, looking after the structure and organisation and then suddenly it was all back to competition mode almost.”

This time around - Bottas is comfortable and relaxed, after a year with the Silver Arrows… the Finn having already been to the factory ahead of pre- eason testing in Barcelona next week.

SOUNDBITE (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
“The first thing today is some seat fit for the testing obviously, trying to make the new seat absolutely perfect for Day 1 already, so let’s start with that.”

Bottas is hoping to build on his three wins and get even closer to Hamilton on pure pace – both in qualifying and the race – this year.

Hamilton, of course, finished 2017 as top man, and will want to take that form and confidence into the new season, with a chance to equal Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

SOUNDBITE: (English) DAMON HILL,
1996 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"He's in a very small group of people and I think that he's still on an upward trajectory. So, very good chance we'll see him break into an even more select group. I mean one more championship and he's up with there with Fangio. One more than that, there's no one else but Michael Schumacher.”

And while the hope is the new W09 has more accessible performance, its predecessor dubbed a diva for its setup difficulties… Mercedes is far from making sweeping changes.

SOUNDBITE (English) TOTO WOLFF,
HEAD OF MOTORSPORT, MERCEDES:
“Some of the character traits from the diva we like, and the W08 was the fastest car in Formula 1 - it scored the most pole positions and it won the most races. So you need to be careful not to dump the things that actually work on the car just to remedy the difficulties that the car showed.”

On balance, it should be another strong year for Mercedes – but its rivals are getting closer all the time.