These off weeks in Formula 1 can be slow, news-wise. Just not much happening as the teams retreat to their headquarters or travel to the next GP location. Sure, someone might mention Red Bull’s suspension, but otherwise… it’s like dripping molasses.
I think two of the teams must be feeling a little itchy, too, as they’ve released China GP previews today, about a week out from the start of the race.
And, surprise! They’re are feeling pretty positive.
First, McLaren”s Martin Whitmarsh:
â€œBy our own very high standards, weâ€™ve not fully met our very high expectations in the first three races, despite having what we feel is the necessary race pace to compete at the front and despite having won the Australian Grand Prix. That might sound overly self-critical, given that we are second in the constructorsâ€™ championship, and given that Jenson and Lewis are both close to the top of the driversâ€™ championship, but thatâ€™s merely a reflection of the fact that we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes aim to excel at all times.
â€œSo I regard that objective as a positive: itâ€™s our desire to improve and to eliminate mistakes from the operation that will make us stronger championship contenders. Thereâ€™s no denying that our successes â€“ Jensonâ€™s integration into the team, his win in Melbourne, and some of the greatest drives of Lewisâ€™s career â€“ have given us a great early-season boost. Now we are looking to establish ourselves as consistent challengers at the front, and to pick up the maximum available points on a regular basis.
â€œOne of the greatest qualities of this team is its considerable strength in depth. After establishing a strong and solid start to the season, weâ€™re confident that weâ€™ll become an even more formidable contender as we head into China and then the start of the European season.â€
And then the team’s drivers, Jenson Button first:
Itâ€™s a good driversâ€™ circuit while also being a place that benefits from a well-balanced car.
â€œI think Iâ€™ve made some real progress in that area, though. I wasnâ€™t completely happy with the balance of the car in Malaysia, so I spent a day back at the McLaren Technology Centre looking at how we could have done things differently in Sepang while also looking ahead to Shanghai.
â€œAlong with my engineers, I think weâ€™ve developed an even better understanding of the MP4-25. We know how to fine-tune the carâ€™s balance and how to develop it over a race weekend. Of course, itâ€™s a continuous process, but the overall feeling is that weâ€™re moving forwards â€“ which, again, is always a positive.â€
Followed by Lewis Hamilton:
â€œI really enjoy driving here â€“ I drove one of my best races here in 2008, winning from pole position. After three races, weâ€™ve been satisfied with our race pace, and we feel comfortable that weâ€™ll be up at the front. Overtaking is possible at this circuit, particularly at the end of the long back straight, so Iâ€™m pretty confident weâ€™ll have another competitive weekend.â€¨â€¨â€¨â€¨
â€œFinally, of all the places we visit around the world, I think the Chinese fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated. Theyâ€™ve really supported me over the years and I look forward to meeting them again when I arrive in the city.â€
Maybe hedging their bets a little? I’d say Mercedes is either more confident or at least feels like it needs to puff itself up and keep its sponsors (and maybe Board of Directors?) happy, although admittedly Nico Rosberg has to be performing beyond their expectations.
Ross Brawn kicks things off:
â€œAchieving our first podium of the season with Nico was very rewarding in Malaysia at the home race of our title partner PETRONAS and a timely boost for the team. Michael also had a strong weekend and is getting more up to speed with every race although circumstances beyond his control limited his race performance in Melbourne and Sepang. We hope to continue these signs of improvement in China and it would be particularly good for Michael to be able to have a clean race and show the progress that he has made since the start of the season. On an operational level, the team has performed very well over the three races and did a good job during Nicoâ€™s race in Malaysia to record one of the quickest pit stops of the season. Our car has been reliable, with the exception of the wheel nut problem in Malaysia, and I am very pleased with the performance of our drivers. Weâ€™ve achieved a reasonable set of results which are in line with the carâ€™s current pace but we have to be realistic and acknowledge that we are not quick enough to compete right at the front at the moment. This is obviously not a situation that we are happy with and we are working as hard as possible to close the gap.â€
Note: His statements about Michael are what the F1 media world seems to be honing in on. No surprise, its being Michael and all, but I might direct your attention to the admission that the team isn’t fast enough yet. The year’s getting on, boys, time to pick up the pace. (For our U.S. readers, please read that last sentence in Steve Matchett’s voice.)
Let’s turn to the seven-time champ:
â€œThe enthusiasm for Mercedes-Benz and the support of the fans is very big in China so we have an attractive race ahead of us in Shanghai next weekend. I am confident that the fans will not leave the race disappointed. We looked quite reasonable in Malaysia at the last race and maybe things will play into our hands again in Shanghai. I am looking forward to the race and fully enjoying the competition again. Admittedly the last two races have not been very fortunate for me but I am very much aware of the reasons for it. I know how things go in F1 and if you look into the detail of the two races, I think everything is still going according to plan. You can only improve step-by-step and I am confident that we are achieving this.â€
I’m feeling a flash back to last fall, somewhere in Germany, the Mercedes Board is meeting, husky Norbert Haug squeezes into the board room and proudly announces that Ross Brawn is joining the. Ross then goes on to wow the board by promising the car will “look quite reasonable.” The deal is done.
Seriously, I know we’re still at the fly-away stage, but if Mercedes doesn’t bring it by Barcelona, the team really might be fighting with Renault for fifth place and having to look in its mirrors at Force India.
Question: Will it reflect badly on Mercedes if McLaren, with its engine, finishes ahead of it? What if… I know it’s a big if, Force India does?
Let’s conclude with Mercedes “No. 1” driver:
â€œShanghai is a good track which is an enjoyable challenge for the drivers. The two long straights provide some decent overtaking opportunities and thereâ€™s a great mix of corners, particularly the high-speed sections. The weather will be colder in Shanghai than at the previous three races and can be quite unpredictable so it should be an interesting weekend. The fans in China are so enthusiastic and Shanghai itself is a great city so I always enjoy our annual visit. Achieving my first podium with the team in Malaysia at the last race was fantastic and Iâ€™m looking forward to continuing our consistent run of good results in China next weekend.â€
That was Nico, if you didn’t get the joke!
As best as I can tell, with a quick poke around the Interwebs, those are the teams that are boring and ready to get to China. Everyone else is quiet, online at least. Even Ferrari is quiet… no Horse Whisperer throwdown in a while.