Herbert: Development key for Hamilton chances
Johnny Herbert says Mercedes need to keep pace with rivals development to give Lewis Hamilton the chance of fighting for victory
Former F1 racer Johnny Herbert says that Mercedes needs to ensure there is no repeat of the development issues it suffered last season if it wants to give Lewis Hamilton a winning car for the 2013 season.
The Brackley-based team looked set to challenge at the front in 2012 after Nico Rosberg took victory in China, but a promising campaign tailed off dramatically as both Rosberg and Michael Schumacher then slipped further away from the pace as the season wore on.
Mercedes will hope there is no repeat during the upcoming campaign having signed 2008 title winner Hamilton to partner Rosberg in a new look line-up and Herbert said the team had to work hard to give the pair a car capable of challenging.
"For sure it will be Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren at the front and it is good for me to see Jenson Button getting the chance to lead McLaren this season," he told Crash.net when asked if he expected any surprises in the year ahead. "It is a very good opportunity for him to be able to lead the team into a second World Championship and there is potential for that to happen. On the other side, his team-mate from last year has left for Mercedes and Lewis is in a different situation.
"Yes he can lead the team, that is all well and good, but we haven't seen a good Mercedes as yet. Development always seems to have been where they struggle and that is something that they will hope changes for 2013. Maybe the input in this year's car from the team that Ross Brawn has put together in the past year or so will be the deciding factor in whether the car is a race winner.
"We know Lewis will get the best out of it and I think he'll win a race or two, but he will want to win a World Championship. That is where we need to see if the core development team, the engineers and the designers, have been able to give him a car that will let him do that."
Many believe that 2014 could be the season when Mercedes come good thanks to new engine rules coming into force in F1, but Herbert was keen to point out that the engine would only be part of the package that the team needs to get right.
"People say that Mercedes will be in the best position for 2014 and they will have the best engine," he said. "That may be so, but they need a good car as well as there is no point having the best engine in a bad car. That is something they have to work on and hopefully it will be something that Lewis can utilise.
"Hopefully he can win races [before then] and considering the season we had last year, he could even win a second title. It will be very close and we saw how competitive Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren were last year but there is the potential for a mix-up, as the rules haven't changed too much.
"That is a good thing as the grid will close up and it will be more difficult because it is so close and it will be tough for anyone to break away from the pack. If we can have a repeat of 2012, it would be an amazing thing to have again."
Herbert was speaking during the Autosport International Karting Challenge, with fundraising efforts for Alzheimer's Society set to continue into February with an online auction of Mark Webber's 2012 helmet, Johnny Herbert's 2011 Nordschleife 24 Hours race suit, Johnny Mowlem's Lotus F1 race suit and gloves, plus other motorsport memorabilia.