Frankfurt: Mercedes finally appears capable of providing Lewis Hamilton with something it could not give Michael Schumacher - a winning car.
When Hamilton made the switch from McLaren to Mercedes after the 2012 season, some questioned the wisdom of shifting from a title contender to a team that finished fifth in the championship and had only one race win in three seasons. There was speculation he made a hasty decision and that it was driven simply by money - a lucrative three-year offer that McLaren couldn't match.
But if the final rounds of preseason testing are any indication, Hamilton's gamble appears to be paying off.
The 28-year-old British driver had the fastest cars in the final rounds of testing, as teams fine-tuned for next week's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
"There's still a lot of work ahead of us to get to where we want to be but the team is doing a great job," Hamilton said after his final test session. "Whilst we've been focusing on our own performance, we definitely haven't seen the full potential of our competitors yet, so it's difficult to predict where we might be."
Mercedes is hoping Hamilton's arrival will mark a revival from a team best remembered the past three years for Schumacher's failed comeback. The seven-time F1 champion struggled for much of his time with Mercedes, often with the Silver Arrow unable to compete at the front of the grid.
Schumacher chose not to renew his contract and retired for the second time, opening the way for Hamilton to take his place.
"It's a great honor to be Schumacher's successor at Mercedes. He is still a legend of this sport," said Hamilton, who is hoping to win his second drivers' championship title.
"It's a new chapter for me, I wanted to do something else," said Hamilton, who spent five seasons with McLaren and won the title in 2008. "It's a very hungry team and they've given me a great reception."
Mercedes so far has only one race victory to show for its decision to return as an independent factory team, and that was by Nico Rosberg last year in China.
"It's an amazing feeling to be here," Hamilton said when he visited the Mercedes factory outside Stuttgart, Germany, last month. "There is so much tradition, so much prestige."
That tradition won't count for much unless Hamilton and Rosberg start producing podium finishes.
Hamilton has tried to dampen expectations, insisting the goal initially will be to finish races and that over time the victories and podium finishes will come.
"I don't think it's going to happen right from the start," Hamilton said of his new team's chances of winning races on a regular basis. "You have to be cautious."
But that was before the final weekend of testing ended in Barcelona, Spain.
Hamilton had the fastest time on March 2 before Rosberg eclipsed him by nearly half a second the day after.
"The reliability, the number of kilometers and the gradual improvements during the testing phase are very encouraging," Hamilton said, his mood lifting. "At some point, we'll be able to win races."
The testing ended much better than it began for Lewis — his first session in February ended when he collided with a barrier after his brakes failed. He was not injured but it gave ammunition to the doubters who question Mercedes reliability.
Apart from bringing in a new driver, Mercedes also has a pair of fresh faces in the management department. Former champion Niki Lauda is the overall supervisor. Toto Wolff is the new motor sport chief, replacing longtime Mercedes boss Norbert Haug. Both men are Austrians.
"We have to make progress, but how far is difficult to say," said Wolff, who came over from F1 rival Williams. "But we have to improve. Mercedes has the ambition to move (to) the front."
Amid the management shakeup , the future of team principal Ross Brawn is uncertain. There have been reports that former McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe will join and eventually replace Brawn. Lowe worked with Hamilton at McLaren.
Lauda has so far refused to say whether Lowe was coming aboard and insisted last month that Brawn would remain with the team and that "everything is under control ... there's peace."
Story first published on: Friday, 08 March 2013 17:00 IST