As the cars head for the starting grid in Melbourne for this weekend's opening round of the 2012 Formula One World Championship, it seems all eyes are being focused on Red Bull, with the McLaren duo of Button and Hamilton considered as reigning champion Sebastian Vettel's closest rivals.

Piling on pressure

However, I think we might be missing something. One team has been quietly piling on the pressure in the past few months and could well be aiming for a place on the Melbourne podium.

I will even tip them for a win or two this season — Mercedes AMG Petronas. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was remarkably candid when I spoke to him during pre-season testing in Barcelona.

With the level of investment and engineering resources at his disposal, he considered last year's fourth place finish in the constructor's World championship as simply not good enough.

A single fourth place finish for Michael Schumacher in Canada was the best result the team could muster last year.

In hindsight, it seems the team had gambled on quite a number of radical chassis and aerodynamic developments which simply didn't get on with the faster-wearing Pirelli tyres.

Last year's Mercedes W02 was also an unwieldy tool, not least when it had a full fuel load early in a race. It is to Michael Schumacher's continuing credit that even though Nico Rosberg out qualified him in all but one race last year, by the end of the opening laps, he had somehow managed to find his way ahead.

User-friendly car

The good news is that this year's car, the W03, looks much more user-friendly.

It has also showed good consistency in its pace during “race simulations” in the pre-season tests. In addition, Ross Brawn has attracted to the Mercedes team one of the best behind-the-scenes technical line ups in Formula One.

Mercedes technical director Bob Bell was ‘head-hunted' from Renault at the start of last season and has a pedigree that includes working with Fernando Alonso in his two World championship-winning years.

Likewise, 2011 recruit Jeff Willis has penned title-winning designs for Williams, not to mention helping design America's Cup-winning racing yachts.

The latest recruit to the Mercedes design team is Aldo Costa, recruited at the end of last season from his previous job as technical director at Ferrari.

Not only has this team come up with a good car at the start of the season, it also clearly has the resources to maintain or even move ahead in the development race as the season goes on.

So, if Mercedes is looking at winning races this season, the next obvious question is, for which driver?

Despite Michael Schumacher's 91 victories and seven world titles, I suspect it will be Nico Rosberg who might grab the headlines with his maiden Grand Prix victory.

A potential champion

Much has been made over the past two years of the younger German outpacing his more mature teammate, with many pointing to it as a sign that Schumacher isn't quite the driver he used to be.

I think that is a disservice to both drivers, not least Nico, still just 26. I rate him as a potential World champion.

In 2005, Rosberg became the inaugural GP2 Series champion in fine style before moving to F1 with Williams.

A year later, Lewis Hamilton won the GP2 title with the same ART team, on his way to McLaren. Insiders at ART all agree that there was little to choose between the two in terms of skill and, technically Rosberg might even be a little smarter.

Of course, for either Mercedes driver to reach the top step of the podium, they would have to beat an unprecedented line up of driving talent this season.

For the first time in Formula One history, six World champions will line up on the starting grid. Joining Schumacher, are Vettel, Button, Hamilton, Alonso and, of course, the returning Kimi Raikkonen.

It is set up to be one of the most exciting and closely fought seasons ever.

(Steve Slater is an F1 race commentator on STAR Sports)

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