Mercedes are struggling this year to decipher the code of their radical W13, but to understand their latest creation, maybe they should look no further than a Rosberg.
Acknowledged by Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, as well as Toto Wolff, the Mercedes W13 is a temperamental chassis. One day good, the next bad, and it seems no amount of set-up searching or CFD modelling can produce a diagnosis.
What it needs is the right “trick cyclist” to get it on the couch and identify the root cause of its neurosis. Rosberg would have been the man for the job.
And just to be clear, I mean Nico Rosberg, not Keke, the Marlboro smoking, hard-drinking, free-lance “bonker” who part timed as a Formula 1 race driver in the 1980’s.
In 2016 Nico Rosberg pulled off a feat that has eluded several other drivers. He beat Lewis Hamilton to the Formula 1 World Championship Crown in an identical car.
Much was made of the physical and mental regimes he pursued to achieve this. However, there was one talent he possesses that was largely overlooked, and one which I believe played a major role in his victory i.e. He has an intimate knowledge of how an F1 car works from an engineering perspective.
Different drivers have different strengths
An erudite mathematician and polyglot, Rosberg was invited to study aeronautical engineering in London at the Imperial College. From the outside, this appeared to offer no significant advantages but as his career progressed to F1 it became increasingly important.
For example, in 2006, he signed a five-year contract with Williams. According to Frank, he was selected for his driving ability, knowledge of F1 technology and most importantly, articulately communicating data to engineers. i.e. He spoke their language!
In 2008 McLaren offered Frank Williams “majestic proportions” to release Rosberg, as McLaren saw what he could bring to the party. However, the offer was rejected, and having been promised a competitive car, Nico resigned with Williams. Unfortunately, the car never arrived and in 2010, he left to join Mercedes following their buy-out of Brawn.
Partnered with Michael Schumacher, the early years at Mercedes were challenging as he felt destabilized by “Schumi’s” Jedi mind tricks.
Following Michael’s retirement in 2013, Nico was re-energized, spending the off-season assisting the team in the W04’s development. This together with a restructuring of the team’s technical personnel (something conditional to him re-signing in 2011), marked the start of Mercedes’s rise to domination. Not a coincidence I think.
It was also the same year his long-term friend and rival – Lewis Hamilton, joined the Team.
Hamilton clearly had the bigger “natural” talent bag
Competitively, Lewis pretty much had the upper hand, but in 2016, Rosberg was able to change all this, in part through sheer commitment and determination, but also by leveraging his strength: Engineering knowledge.
Every weekend he received detailed technical reports from the mechanics/engineers to better understand the car. Whilst the W07 was undoubtedly an excellent car, there were times in 2016 when it was dysfunctional.
Where Hamilton struggled to get his car to “work”, Rosberg was able to translate the data and handling “issues” into mechanical “causes” with his engineers. This proved pivotal in three races that season where he qualified in P1 and Hamilton P10 or lower. Incidentally, Rosberg went on to win each of these races!
In a decent car, Hamilton & Russel are your drivers, but if it’s a dog….
In this situation, Rosberg’s engineering and physics’ nous would be a huge advantage; compared to Hamilton who studied the “Classics” at a boarding College in Cambridge with no apparent output, or George who attended a Grammar School – period.
Both these drivers are intelligent individuals, however there is no indication from their educational background that they would have an insight into the science of F1. Whilst both can articulate what they need the car to do “more of” or “less of”. It would appear they cannot say why it does what it does.
In this day and age, people assume the Race Engineers will interpret the data and “do the necessary”, but this is incorrect.
Often the computer data “model” has told the engineers that Hamilton’s P1 qualifying lap time was not possible. And yet it was. Whilst the race “monkeys of the grease” have many “magic spells” they can cast to cure handling and/or performance ailments, tt is clear they have some limitations and that to resolve the problems they need something more from the drivers feedback.
Mercedes W13 voodoo defies the physics playbook
With the F1 teams now faced with testing and budget caps, an engineering-savvy driver who can actively help pierce “the fog” may well become the most valuable “No.2” type signing of the future.
Unfortunately, the ones that possess this strength are often missing other preferred ingredients and therefore rarely make it to the top.
The best example I can give of the average driver’s interest in the mysteries of engineering is the famous “fearless” Frank Sytner.
Sytner was a successful British Touring Car racer of the 1980s, he was approached by the pit lane commentator for an interview. It went a bit like this:
Commentator: “Hi Frank, what happened there?”
Frank: “The engine broke.”
Commentator: “Oh really, what’s wrong with it?”
Frank looks at the commentator like he’s an idiot and replies.
Frank: “It doesn’t work!”
Toto, maybe it’s time to give Nico a call?