August 9th, 2012 (F1plus / Jordan Irvine).- Mercedes formed its first works squad since 1955 after buying out Brawn GP in 2010. Quickly looking to establish themselves as the modern Silver Arrows all-German team, they would sign youngster Nico Rosberg, and the seven-time World Champion just out of retirement, Michael Schumacher.
Hoping to build on the success already established by Ross Brawn in 2009, where Brawn GP had won both the World Constructors Championship and the World Drivers’ Championship with Jenson Button, Mercedes had just one plan – re-establish themselves as the illustrious team they were back in 1955 and challenge the front runners of Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing.
With a team built on the work of Ross Brawn in 2009, a young star and a seven-time world champion as their drivers, and a management team built up of key motorsport figureheads including Dr. Dieter Zetsche (CEO of Mercedes-Benz), Norbert Haug (Mercedes Motorsport), Ross Brawn (Team Principle) and Nick Fry (CEO of Mercedes AMG F1), the team seemed to have the recipe to success.
But two and a half full Formula 1 seasons later, and just one team win (for Nico Rosberg in China, 2012) on the board, the team have yet to achieve what they set out to – to become a regular and consistent front runner in Formula 1.
Eleven races already through the 2012 Formula 1 season and now already on ‘summer break’ with just nine races left on the calendar, it seems like a fitting time to look back at the teams’ results in 2012 so far, and what can still be achieved before the year is done.
The season got off to a good start in Australia with both cars qualifying in the top ten and Michael Schumacher leading the way; fourth on the grid for the first race of the season whilst Rosberg qualified in seventh. The celebrations of competing with the front-runners on race day were short lived though; Schumacher would retire just 10 laps into the race with a gearbox failure and Rosberg lost 5 places over the course of the race, finishing in twelfth overall, two places out of the points.
Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying results were somewhat similar to those achieved in Australia, Michael Schumacher once more out qualifying his younger teammate with P3 as Rosberg could achieve a fastest lap good enough for eighth. Results however were slightly improved when Schumacher crossed the finish line in tenth and scored his, and Mercedes AMG F1’s, first championship point of the year. Rosberg also finished the race, though three places behind in thirteenth.
As the Formula 1 circus rolled into China, there was an air of determination in the Mercedes AMG F1 team garage having posted a point in the previous race. Both cars blitzed qualifying, and as Q3 came to a close, Nico Rosberg finished on pole position – his first personal pole position as a Formula 1 driver and the teams first pole position since returning to F1 as a works team. Schumacher also had an impressive run, finishing in third place, but inheriting second position after Lewis Hamilton was handed a grid penalty. His luck ran out during the race though when a wheel malfunction caused his retirement for the first time this season. Without fault, Nico Rosberg would lead the Grand Prix from the start, going on to win. It would be Rosberg’s first win in Formula 1, the first (and long awaited) win for the Mercedes works team since 1955, and Rosberg became the first German driver to win a Grand Prix driving a German car since Hermann Lang´s victory at the 1939 Swiss Grand Prix.
Rosberg celebrates his first Formula 1 victory at Shanghai.
Mercedes AMG F1 were certainly, as a team, making progress three races into the season, and China was evidence of this forward step. Only 26 points in total had been gained though, and Mercedes sat well off the pace, and championship standings, of the teams they were hoping to compete against. To add to this, a string of bad luck was about to hit.
Bahrain, Spain, Monaco and Canada were the next races on the F1 Calendar – a string of circuits which would test the cars on several different levels. Although the team would continue to post some impressive qualifying results and race results, including the teams second pole position in Monaco for Michael Schumacher (and his first since returning to F1 in 2010 from retirement), external factors and ‘bad luck’ would hinder the drivers’ and teams progress.
Schumacher would receive a 5 place grid penalty for changing his gearbox at the Bahrain Grand Prix, and would get another 5 place grid penalty for Monaco after causing a collision with Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix. He would finish only one of the four races – tenth place in Bahrain, and one World Championship point. An accident in Spain, a fuel pressure issue, and a DRS failure would force his retirement from the Spanish, Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix.
Rosberg had relatively more success at these races, scoring a combined 42 points for himself and the team, and placing on the podium in Monaco, finishing second overall.
The European Grand Prix, this year much more exciting and action filled than previous years have seen, proved more of a stomping ground for Mercedes AMG F1 team. Despite failing to make Q3 and starting the race in twelfth, Michael Schumacher would run a good race and break his ‘DNF’ streak with a podium placing in third, scoring a much needed fifteen world championship points. Teammate Nico Rosberg finished where he qualified, sixth, adding another eight points to the teams tally.
Another fourteen combined championship points would follow in Great Britain, Germany and Hungary, though consistency and reliability still proved a problem for the German outfit. Rosberg would finish out of the points in Great Britain, finishing fifteenth overall, whilst Michael Schumacher was forced to retire from another race, this time citing a technical fault, on just lap 17 of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
This brings us to now – the F1 ‘summer break’ – the time when all teams close down for two weeks and everyone takes a well-earned vacation. The vacation will be short lived though, especially for Mercedes, who will be looking to capitalise on the remaining nine races of the season. Instead of counting down the days until the vacation, it’s likely the team are counting down the days until the vacation is over so they can return to the factory and work on improving the car.
Mercedes AMG F1 currently stands fifth in the World Constructors World Championship with 106 points, 140 points adrift of leaders Red Bull Racing. In the World Drivers’ Championship standings, Nico Rosberg is leading the way for the team in sixth with 77 points – teammate Michael Schumacher sits in twelfth with just 29 points and 135 points behind Championship Leader Fernando Alonso.
Nico Rosberg has, this season to date, out qualified his much more experienced teammate 6 times out of 11 races, while Schumacher has retired from 6 races. The first half of the F1 season, it’s fair to say, has been ‘trying’ for a team who is looking to, and who knows they are able to, produce better results.
The good news is, with 9 races still to go and a maximum of 225 World Championship points still available, there is plenty of time for Mercedes to make up for lost time. It will take hard work, and smart driving. There can be no more silly mistakes, such as missing your grid box as a race is about to start (as Schumacher did in Hungary, forcing a second formation lap), there can be no more retirements, and there can be no more tyre / balance issues.
Mercedes AMG F1 Team has huge potential, and with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg as their drivers, a reliable car combined with the talent of proven racers will result in success both on and off the track. There’s still time to compete with the front runners, and providing the glitches can be ironed out, we will see them compete regularly for the front row and top of the podium. Nico Rosberg already has a win for the team this year, and I believe we’ll see the Silver Arrows at the top again soon. For Mercedes and their drivers, the sooner the better.
So here’s to the second half of the 2012 season – make sure you follow it closely, because judging by the way the first half went, blink, and the season will be over.