Making a strong case for Nico Rosberg
19 May, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.