Making a strong case for Nico Rosberg

2010 Formula One Testing Barcelona, Spain.  26th February 2010.  Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP W01.  World Copyright: Andrew Ferraro /LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image_Q0C3620.jpg

Nico Rosberg landed a prime F1 seat with Mercedes GP, then Michael Schumacher came along...

May.18 (Michael Johnsson) To steal a line from the movie Speed, it’s time for a Formula 1 pop quiz, folks.
Question: When is a driver who is 50 points behind in the world championship favoured within his team over a driver who is 10 points behind?
Answer: When the first driver is Michael Schumacher.

Nico Rosberg on the podium in Shanghai

Nico Rosberg on the podium in Shanghai

The normal order of things has been overturned within the fledgling Mercedes-Benz team, where Nico Rosberg, the young challenger, had been beating the daylights out of Schumacher, the former seven-time F1 champion whoís looked peculiarly out of his depth, in the early part of this season.

The problem for Mercedes is that the former Brawn team has almost all of its commercial and promotional eggs in the 41-year-old Schumacherís basket. His return to the sport was announced with much fanfare and met with as much anticipation, even though he had not turned a F1 wheel in anger in years.

Formula 1: World Championship 2010, GP of Malaysia, 04 Nico Rosberg (GER, Mercedes GP Petronas), 03 Michael Schumacher

Nico with Michael Schumacher

As such, Mercedes admitted ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix that its most recent technical updates, which it claimed had been in the works since the first day of off-season testing, had been developed around Schumacher’s input with an eye toward making the car more amenable to his driving style. The updates, it was said, would make him and the team more competitive in Barcelona.

So much for the best-laid plans of mice and Mercedes. Schumacher, who finished a fortuitous fourth upon the late retirement of Lewis Hamilton, was still a fat 2 seconds a lap slower than the rampaging Red Bulls under the wheelmanship of race winner Mark Webber and third-place finisher Sebastian Vettel.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams FW32 and Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01 battle for position. Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday 9 May 2010.

Nico was battling down the order in Spain

Rosberg, for his part, spent a lost weekend as he struggled with the new car and finished out of the points. He was also outqualified by Schumacher for the first time this season, though only by a whisker more than 0.1 of a second, a margin one might have expected to be greater considering the characteristics of the new long-wheelbase Mercedes and whom it was supposedly developed to help.

Rosberg should be, under everyday conditions and based on his performances this year, the undisputed star of the squad. Driving what was originally developed as neutral equipment, he had thoroughly thrashed his much more decorated, if slightly rusty, teammate race weekend in and race weekend out before the Schumacher-inspired updates arrived.

Nico at the wheel of the Mercedes MGP W01

Nico at the wheel of the Mercedes MGP W01

In a sport where beating your teammate is theoretically priority one to get the better and newer equipment, Rosberg had been nothing short of dominant, turning the tables on a driver renowned for being on the giving end of such a beating. Through the 28 timed sessions in the four races prior to Spain (practices 1, 2 and 3, qualifying sessions 1, 2, and 3 and the race itself at each event), the score at Mercedes was Rosberg 24, Schumacher 4. Rosberg swept Schumacher 7-0 in both Bahrain and China and had 5-2 advantages in Australia and Malaysia.

Those results were turned around in Spain as Schumacher posted a 6-1 margin in the updated car, which clearly left Rosberg at a disadvantage. He struggled during practice and qualifying and had what could only be described as a disastrous race, which started with him being forced onto the grass at a cost of several positions when the lights went out and went downhill from there.

Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP celebrates his third position in parc ferme. Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 4 April 2010.

Nico celebrates third place in Malaysia

If, as the team said, the updates had been planned since the first day of testing, that would indicate that Schumacher had been complaining about the original car since the beginning. Those apparent complaints continued into the season, with Schumacher going public with his feelings that the car was not fast enough.

Rosberg, meantime, posted two podium finishes and finished no worse than fifth in the first four races, showing that it must have been fast enough for someone to do well with it. Hmm.

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01 leads Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01 and Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM03 at Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1 VJM03 at the start of the race. Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Race, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday 16 May 2010.

Nico spent the Monaco afternoon behind his teammate

At Monaco, Schumacher appeared to have the better of Rosberg, which was strange as they were both in the shorter wheelbase car. Analysing the qualifying session, though, it becomes blatantly apparent that Rosberg was quick enough for a front row grid spot but a mistake and traffic hampered him. Thus he was confined to spending the afternoon behind his teammate.

Then at the end of the race Schumacher, a controversy magnet, was penalised and demoted to 12th and out of the points. The points score is now Rosberg 54, Schumacher 22.

Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP in the FIA Press Conference. Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai, China, Sunday 18 April 2010.

What does Turkey have in store for Nico?

So it’s on to Turkey, where the team is likely to roll out the Schumacher-influenced long wheelbase MGP W01, which Rosberg will have to come to grips with.

At this point the younger of the two Germans could be forgiven for wondering what he has gotten himself into. Had he shown form similar to this season’s start at any other team, he’d be lord of the manor. Instead, he is facing the prospect of nothing he does being good enough to keep Schumacher out of the front seat at Mercedes the rest of his time there. Keeping himself motivated going into the Monaco GP was a test of his professionalism and how he copes in Turkey will again be a true test of character.

The final pop quiz question is: should it have to be this way for Rosberg?
The answer: Ask Schumacher.

  • Bec

    Mercedes have invested a huge amount of money in Schumacher, and are undoubtedly a little embarrassed by his failure to deliver compared to Nico.

    This is why they have thrown their weight behind the Schumi’ friendly upgrades, but it seems Mercedes are very similar to BMW, in the fact that they’ll throw away success if it isn’t part of the master plan.

    Nico will be sacrificed the same way as kubica was at BMW.
    Nico because it should be Schumi’ doing well, and Kubica because it was the wrong year to have a title run.

  • imad

    why on earth should Mercedes be bias, if they brought Michael for a reason, and we all know what it is, which is that Michael can deliver results consistently, and the positive aspect of his, that he can improve the car technically. as for the results, Michael had been off for 3 years, though he can still somehow keep up with the pace after all this time, now going back to full form, thats gonna take a while, and he is getting it together rapidly, the only concern about Michael’s situation here is the age factor, but the talent, technicality, skill and passion can never be changed or removed ….

  • dude

    in theory you are correct but what has been proven since his come back is that “oh great one” has not delivered the consistency and technical know how you talk about. granted he is rusty and rust never sleeps as you know…
    so while he gets unrusty focus on the shiny guy in the other car. dont you think?

  • Paul Kirk

    Well, umm, Sandshoe Fixer is sure to be the better developement driver of the two, so if he can identify areas where gains can be made, and the factory can achieve those gains, then the car will be faster. This will help both drivers! Of course they may each require marginally different settings to fine tune for the circuits, but that is normal for all teams and has applied to racing for every driver since they started in Karts! But fundimental design changes that effect the aero balance, mechanical balance, or power down etc., could possibly be influenced by Schumacher’s skills, and Nico should be happy about that. I’ve got a gut feeling that Shoomaker will ultimately be at the top of the team, and also at the pointy end of the grid. It might not be this season but it will happen! Let’s wait and see!

  • Chloemojo

    Watch and learn Nico!

    Until Nico stepped into this team he hadn’t exactly performed at the highest level because he didn’t have the car to do it. If Nico was able to provide the team with the input to improve the car considerably I’m sure Ross would have listened to him and given him full credit. Michael’s experience in developing a car is second to none and as they are a team they should both benefit from the changes. If Nico is as good as he believes he is then he will come out on top regardless of who the team manager favours – unfortunately it’s not likely to happen because Michael’s nature is such that he will achieve what he has set out to do and then retire as a success again.