Jolyon Palmer believes that the upcoming French Grand Prix could offer Mercedes their "best chance" of fighting for victory amid their recent progress.
The team appear to have displayed signs of improvement of late, with Lewis Hamilton having at one stage looked to be in contention for a possible win at the British Grand Prix.
There were also hints of good pace in Austria, though the Silver Arrows' weekend was compromised on this occasion due to Hamilton and George Russell both crashing out of Q3 in Friday's qualifying.
Despite this, Palmer thinks that the prospects are encouraging for what Mercedes can achieve going forwards.
"There are signs now that they are getting on top of [their issues] and are merging back towards being genuine front-runners once more," Palmer wrote in his column for Formula1.com.
How different circuits have affected Mercedes
After a difficult start to the season, things started to look more encouraging for Mercedes at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, though this was followed by some more challenging outings.
"Subsequent races in Monaco, Baku and Montreal made it hard to determine if the Spanish Grand Prix pace was a flash in the pan, or signs of genuine progress, with Mercedes making limited discernible progress from where they had been before Catalunya," Palmer explained.
"This picture was muddied, though, by the nature of those circuits: they are street circuits and inherently bumpy and abrasive, which emphasises the weakness of the Mercedes’ harsh ride.
"Back on a conventional race circuit at Silverstone, and with another raft of upgrades, the team looked as though they had the possibility of winning again with Hamilton, although it was undoubtedly helped by damage hampering Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc."
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Hamilton's pace close to Leclerc's in Austria
With Austria's Red Bull Ring having often proved to be a weak circuit for Mercedes, the team did not expect a strong performance, but hinted at strong pace on Friday before Hamilton and Russell's Q3 crashes.
However, Palmer thinks that Hamilton's pace in comparison to race winner Leclerc's looked positive.
"It's better to look at Hamilton's race pace for the genuine pace of the Merc in Austria, and once again it looked on Sunday to be a fairly close match to the dominant Ferrari of Charles Leclerc after the seven-time champ hit clear air," the former F1 driver said.
"This is why he managed to overcut a string of midfielders."
What Mercedes need to overcome to win the French GP
Bearing all of this in mind, Palmer expects the nature of the Circuit Paul Ricard to suit Mercedes, offering them a decent chance of fighting for the win.
"The French Grand Prix up next is one of the smoothest circuits, made up of predominantly medium and high-speed corners. Mercedes have always gone well there in the past, and it surely poses their best chance of fighting for victory on merit so far this year," Palmer noted.
To do this, though, Palmer has warned that the team need to resolve their issues in qualifying.
"A problem they need to address is their qualifying form," the former Renault driver continued.
"So far this season, there have been three occasions where it looked like they might have the pace to fight for a win, but in all three, Hamilton has been on recovery drives rather than starting at the front.
"So far, the Mercedes race pace has been significantly better than their qualifying form. If they hope to win in France, they must show more one lap pace on Saturday to get themselves in the mix at the start.
"It's one thing having race pace to match the leaders, but when you concede as much track position as they are doing at the moment, a victory fight will always be tough – and that is what has cost them in the last couple of races."
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