Mercedes GP has the potential to turn the fight at the front of Formula 1 into a four-horse race next season, providing it can hit the ground running with its new car at the start of the campaign. That is the view of Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug, who believes the fact the team has not lost ground in the development battle against Red Bull Racing and McLaren has provided encouragement about what it needs to do to make good progress.
"The last four circuits were on very, very different tracks, and we challenged the top three teams and finished three times in the top six," said Haug. "It shows that the trend goes in the right direction and I think the team expects more and more.
"Generally saying, we did not lose ground. There was a huge development race within the top teams, all the teams, but we basically did not lose out compared to where we started. So we could follow the rhythm by and large.
"If our basis [for 2012] is a better one, then maybe there are four top teams next season. Maybe there are eight cars challenging for victory. This is certainly our target."
Haug does not expect a major transformation in Mercedes GP's form for next year, but believes that the outfit can move another step closer to the front.
"We are far from being satisfied but we need to stabilize, then do another step, and be in the top three and top four with a regular challenge, with a regular possibility to challenge for podium finishes.
"It is fair to say that to beat these six guys ahead, not a lot of people are in a position to do so and this is quite a challenge. We are expecting it from ourselves. We did not spend a lot of money on it, but we have a good concept, we brought Michael [Schumacher] back, and we have a very good, talented driver in Nico [Rosberg]. So, if all that fits together and goes in the right direction, we have reason to be very pleased."
Haug also believes that both his drivers are delivering at a consistently high level, especially with the progress that Schumacher has shown in recent races. Speaking about the seven-time World Champion, Haug said: "I never had the slightest doubts, although I can understand people criticizing him, and he accepted that.
"If you look deeper you see what is going on: If you measure and compare yourself against Nico Rosberg. Nico has the image of being one of the fastest, thorough current young generation drivers, and it is fair to say that Michael sometimes jumps over that bar.
"If you jump over the Nico Rosberg bar, who is said as being one of the top five guys, then you cannot be bad. His spirit in racing, the moves you can see, it is not a coincidence if after 25-35 races you are the guy who has the most overtaking maneuvers after the first lap."
Although Schumacher said in Korea that he does not care if he beats Rosberg in the drivers' standings this year, Haug has a different view on whether it will matter.
"Of course it does. It matters for us – it matters for everybody. Tell me one driver who wants to be behind his teammate? Nobody wants to be behind his teammate."