Damon Hill: Lewis Hamilton will be title challenger
Damon Hill is confident Lewis Hamilton will ride through the storm of speculation currently surrounding Mercedes and emerge a championship challenger again in 2014.
Hamilton stated long before he arrived at Mercedes he did not expect to be in the hunt for this year's title, a claim he has repeated in the wake of the opening two pre-season tests.
Although the new car is a step forward from last season, offering up hope it will at least provide more of a sustained challenge over the coming months, the uncertainty behind the scenes is likely to be a hindrance so soon after signing up for the next three years.
The confirmation from McLaren yesterday that Paddy Lowe has been replaced as technical director by Tim Goss has only added to the furore.
Lowe is to join Mercedes at the end of the year once his contract expires with McLaren, potentially replacing Ross Brawn as team principal.
However, Niki Lauda, non-executive chairman of Mercedes Grand Prix Ltd, yesterday confirmed there to be "peace" within the team, and Brawn "will stay in his position".
But in recruiting Lowe, regarded as one of F1's brightest technical experts, Mercedes are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to ensure they win the title next year when the engine regulations undergo a radical change.
"Lewis knows and understands (the current situation). There is no doubting his ability. That is not the question," said 1996 world champion Hill.
"The question is the team and the equipment. The engine is good, they know that, so the focus is now on the team, how they operate and how they produce a competitive car.
"There are going to be regulation changes in 2014, so they (the Mercedes board) will want to see some evidence things are going the right way this year.
"But I don't expect them to be challenging for the championship - I don't think most people would expect them to be challenging for the championship.
"They've still got to work their way through Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, and maybe Lotus, so that is a tall order.
"But in 2014, I don't see why they can't grab an opportunity with the team they are putting together."
Conceding McLaren will be "gutted" to lose a man of Lowe's calibre, Hill can appreciate why Mercedes are recruiting the best minds in the business.
Lowe will join a technical team that already includes Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, as well as Brawn should he decide to remain.
Assessing Lowe's recruitment and Mercedes' wealth of talent, Hill added: "When Niki took on the chairmanship of the board, and they also brought in Lewis, it was clear they were determined to make changes.
"So it's only natural you will see some changes in personnel to justify the expenditure that Mercedes are making, and to make a statement that those changes are necessary for results to also change.
"Who knows what Ross' role will be. I'm sure he is a valuable asset to Mercedes. It's just how you fiddle those people together to make sure it is a coherent team."