BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Mercedes believe they can put their tyre woes behind them and mount a genuine Formula One title challenge after Lewis Hamilton’s Hungarian Grand Prix win on Sunday.
The 2008 world champion might have greeted his first victory for Mercedes since his move from McLaren at the end of last season as something of a ‘miracle’ but others saw it differently.
Mercedes go into the August break, which marks the midpoint of the season, in second place overall after winning three of the last five races and taking seven pole positions in the 10 rounds so far.
The team are 69 points adrift of Red Bull in the constructors’ standings, a tidy amount, while Hamilton has 48 to make up in the drivers’ battle with nine races left.
Asked whether he felt there was a momentum building at Mercedes, even if Red Bull scored two points more than them at the Hungaroring by getting both cars into the points, team principal Ross Brawn gave qualified assent.
”It’s so fragile,“ he said. ”The team had a very strong weekend and if we replicate that there’s no reason why not. If we don’t replicate it then we won‘t.
”We’ve got to get both cars to the finish, we didn’t do that today. A very strong performance with Lewis, Nico (Rosberg) had some problems - not of his own making but you’ve got to have both cars right up there.
“I think it’s still open myself and certainly we won’t be giving up,” added the Briton.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner, whose team have won the last three drivers’ and constructors titles and are well on the way to making it four in a row, agreed that there was a long way to go yet.
”I don’t think it has ever been off,“ he said when asked whether the championship was ‘on’. ”Mercedes since the second race have been very quick and that is still the case here.
“I think we are set for a really intense second half of the year. But we just have to maintain our consistency no matter who the opponent is.”
Hamilton said it was still to early to talk of the championship but Sunday’s win showed “anything is possible”.
“I just hope that it’s not the last time my tyres work for me,” he said.
The tyres have been Mercedes’ big problem, with Rosberg and Hamilton sweeping the front row in Spain in May but then sinking in the race.
Mercedes took part in a controversial ‘secret’ tyre test at the Barcelona circuit in May and were punished by being barred from a young driver test at Silverstone this month.
That test was expanded to regular drivers after a spate of tyre blowouts at the British Grand Prix threw the sport into crisis, with Pirelli changing the tyres for Hungary to marry the tougher 2012 structure with 2013 compounds.
Brawn recognised the switch may have helped the team but said mastering the tyres was still very much a moving target.
“I think the Nuerburgring (the German race before Hungary) was another piece of the jigsaw. In our post-race analysis of the Nuerburgring we understood a bit more,” he said.
”The tyres changed again here and we’ve slightly focused on a few different things in terms of trying to judge where we were in terms of tyre performance and what we have to do to achieve a good long-run result.
“I still don’t have any idea, quite frankly, whether this tyre is the one that suits us more or less than anyone else. It’s certainly changed the order a little bit because some teams who are doing exceptionally well like Force India have struggled with it.”
Brawn said the situation was sure to change further, with rivals coming to terms with the change soon enough.
“We got it on the button this weekend, it doesn’t mean we’ll get it right at Spa because every situation is different,” he said, referring to the next race in Belgium on August 25. “You just build up your understanding of it to use it properly.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer