Mercedes GP Season Review
The team had a disappointing 2010 after winning both championships in 2009.
But it was also a year of transition, of adjusting to a new management and ownership structure following the takeover by Mercedes – to say nothing of the cut in staff following Honda’s departure from F1.
There had been developments in this area in though in the lead up to the 2011 season, including the completion of the Mercedes purchase and the arrival of Bob Bell from Renault as new technical director.
The latter should bring a significant boost to the team’s car development. The team couldn’t match the progress of the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren last year.
As they struggled to integrate new parts such as the F-duct onto their car, Mercedes found themselves fighting a rearguard action from the likes of Renault.
Matters weren’t helped by the unusual split air intake approach the team took. They have abandoned it this year but two other teams (Force India and Lotus) have taken their lead and are persisting with it.
After a complete change in their driver line-up last year Mercedes are sticking with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg in 2011.
However with Jock Clear set to leave the team and Andrew Shovlin taking on the role of chief race
engineer, the drivers will each have new race engineers.
Mark Slade will engineer Schumacher’s car and Tony Ross, who was Rosberg’s race engineer at Williams, will rejoin the driver from the Malaysian Grand Prix (Clear will remain for Australia).
It’s a lot to ask the team to suddenly step up to the level of the front runners – even before acknowledging the problems they seem to have had with the 2011 car in testing.
Mercedes, like Renault, came up with a car concept that was overtaken by events. In Mercedes' case it was a failure to anticipate the evolution and power of the developing exhaust technology.
"It became clear at the end of 2010 that there was perhaps more going on in the exhaust area than we'd understood," Brawn admits.
"The short wheelbase and other things we did were not as advantageous as we thought.
Mercedes rather shot themselves in the foot with the cooling system, which was quite different to the norm in terms of the two-tiered radiators. When they solved the teething problems they worked very well but hurt them in the development stakes early on.
"The two-tiered radiators were to keep the car short because obviously a single radiator is much longer. With the diffuser height changes from 2010 we thought a short car would be the way to go.
The team thought it wanted a short, flat area of floor because the less powerful single diffusers would otherwise cause the air to detach, but the exhaust technologies solved that problem straight away. They were therefore left with no advantages but compromises in terms of weight distribution and fuel height that impacted on many areas, including comparatively high rear tyre usage.
"We had some fairly high rear degradation initially and the higher centre of gravity with the shorter car for sure come into it. At tracks like Monaco and Singapore that was an area we weren't too strong in.
"But, when we were at tracks that are front tyre limited, China being one of them, the car performed very well. We got better in that respect - Singapore wasn't another Monaco for us - but rear tyre degradation is something we need to address in 2012."
The new DRS rear wing was always a strong feature of the Mercedes although there were some early season problems when the air seemed reluctant to re-attach once the flap came back down.
"For some curious reason it seemed to affect Michael more than Nico," Brawn explains. "Their crash helmets are slightly different shapes and the flow onto the rear wing was a little different. You could swap the wing over and the problem would stay with Michael."
Schumacher again struggled with qualifying relative to his team mate, a three to four tenths margin the average gap across the season.
Michael, however, generally put strong races together and invariably made up places at the start, he gained the most positions at the start of the race compared to anyone else, and also had the most overtakes in the 2011 season, just edging out Sebastien Beumi.(yeah I had to get that in! )
The seven time World Champion struggled early on in the first few races, there were rumours that Schumacher wasn’t happy, and again, like the season before, the talks of him quitting early arised. However, the German was simply mis-quoted at the Turkish Grand Prix.
At this time of the season he only scored six points to his team-mates twenty.
After the Turkish Grand Prix, Schumacher’s results started to improve, he finished in sixth ahead of Rosberg, and in Monaco he looked strong, putting Rosberg in the shade until his airbox went on fire causing him to retire.
At Canada, he had his strongest race (since his comeback) to date, he achieved the team's best result, a fourth place in Canada, he looked like the Michael of old, and looked as if he was going to make a return to the podium, until the DRS was enabled.
It was a positive sign, and it was nice to see the maestro near his old self.
His race pace improved massively, and had an eventful race at Silverstone. A race where he looked strong, until he collided with Kamui Kobayashi, not only did he have to pit for a new front wing; he also got a stop and go penalty. Despite this, he managed to finish in ninth three places behind Rosberg.
When you think of Schumacher's seven titles and 91 wins, it seemed strange to hear Brawn say that Schumacher's lengthy battle with Hamilton at Monza gave him confidence but in a business of such constant re-evaluation, perhaps it is not. It would be intriguing to see what both Rosberg and Schumacher would do with a front-running car.
He had a string of two good races in Belgium and in Monza.
Starting twenty-fourth on the grid at Belgium, and finished in fifth ahead of his team-mate who briefly led the race.
At Monza, controversy followed the man as many found his defending against the rules against Lewis Hamilton, nevertheless, he managed to finish again in fifth.
The team-mate battle between Schumacher and Rosberg was hotting up, especially after India where Schumacher again finished in fifth and ahead of Rosberg.
2011 saw Schumacher get into a fair few collisions and struggling to qualify the car in its average position, though positives can be taken from the season as he showed much better form compared to 2010, and to come close to Rosberg with several more retirements and collisions which ruined a few of his races, was not bad at all from the oldest driver on the grid.
Rosberg’s early season was a contrast to Schumacher’s.
He started off well with a great race in China, where he led several laps and was looking good for a podium place, but late on in the race he was marginal on fuel, which made him a sitting duck to faster cars, eventually finishing in fifth place.
Like Schumacher in Canada, he deserved a podium for his performance in China.
Another solid performance in Turkey, where he started in third and was up to second into the first corner. But he could not maintain his position and kept slipping back due to being surrounded by faster cars, and finished in fifth.
He scored points in Spain, but went on a dip in Monaco and Canada.
He out-performed his car again at Belguim where he briefly led the race, but the same old kept happening to the Mercedes drivers when a good result was on the cards, and he slipped back to sixth, losing fifth place to Schumacher.
From Valencia onwards, Rosberg scored points in every single grand prix except at Monza, where he was taken out by a fast starting HRT.
Rosberg came out as top dog finishing thirteen points ahead of Schumacher, though Schumacher did outscore Rosberg seventy to sixty nine from China onwards with four more retirements.
Thirteen points doesn’t seem a big margin between the two despite all the problems Schumacher had. Rosberg really should have had a bigger margin to his team-mate, anonymous in many grand prixs, but was picking up the points.
The battle between these two in 2012 should be very interesting.
Podiums were so near at times, but yet so far. With the top three teams grabbing the podiums in all races except the first two, the guys at Mercedes need to do a better job.
A distant fourth is not what the team, the drivers, or racing fans expect from a team like Mercedes.
Brawn admits that the team had hoped to compete at the front in 2011 but ultimately could not. He thinks that if the Resource Restriction Agreement is being respected, the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren should be down to a level that he says Mercedes is still moving up to.
With Bob Bell already ensconced as technical director, last year's recruitment of experienced, respected technical figures such as Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis should also give the team increased strength in depth, an area in which it was lacking a year ago. It would be a surprise to see Mercedes finish 2012 without a podium.
Highlights: Finishing the best of the rest and quite comfortably ahead of Renault who looked like threatening it at the early stage of the season.
Lowlights: Couldn’t compete with the top three, and slight decline compared to the 2010 season.