On the back of disappointing past results at the Hungaroring and the Nurburgring, Petronas Mercedes Benz GP finally had something to cheer about at Spa. From 5th on the grid, Nico Rosberg made a lightning speed start to take second on the exit of La Source. He then proved the Mercedes top speed credentials on the Radillion straight to storm past erstwhile leader Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel to take the lead on the opening lap. Having retained the lead for two and a half laps, the Mercedes driver found himself yet again in the lead as Vettel pitted on lap 4. Yet, despite leading at the most challenging circuit in the iconic Silver Arrow; the young German remains pessimistic over the car’s overall race pace.
“It was great to see the Red Bull, Mclaren and Ferrari behind me, but we just don’t have the pace to stay at the top”, said Nico. Although the top speed of the Mercedes is extremely competitive and by and large it was this advantage that kept Rosberg in the lead for so long; the mid corner grip and overall speed of the car is just not as efficient as the leading teams of Red Bull, Mclaren and Ferrari. Still, the team can take pleasure in seeing their two cars finish in the top 6, very much the best of the rest. In fact Schumacher and Rosberg’s 5th and 6th places gave the team a total of 18 points; their best tally of the season so far.
For Schumacher, it was an even more impressive display, and showed that if he can keep his front wing in tact, he can produce the goods. Due to his misfortune in qualifying due to a tyre failure, he was surprisingly set up perfectly for the race, as he had new tyres for each stint. Starting from the back of the grid in 24th, the seven times world champion surged his way through to 14th place by the end of the first lap, taking advantage of the first corner melee and only doing a four lap stint on the medium tyre before completing the race on the quicker soft compound; giving him more grip and pace nearer the end of the race. This strategy proved crucial as he was able to overtake many cars on his way to 5th place. It was a sterling drive from the German; and a fitting way to celebrate 20 years in Formula One.
Rosberg on the other hand due to qualifying in the top 10 had to start on the set of used soft tyres from Q3. This meant that he would have to use the slower medium tyre in the closing stint (the shortest) to avoid losing too much time. However, as was the case with Michael in the first 4 laps; he found the medium tyres – which according to Ross Brawn were around a second off the pace of the soft compound – too difficult to manage. He quickly lost touch with Alonso and relinquished his fourth position to Jenson Button and then fifth place to team mate Schumacher in the late stages of the race.
So although Mercedes had its strongest team showing of the 2011 Season; it still finds itself some way of the leading pace; something that was not anticipated from the 2009 Champions (under the guise of Brawn). However, there are signs of improvement and if the car’s top speed is as dominant in Monza as it was in Spa; then a good result may be on the cards as Nico agrees: “looking forward to Monza, I am confident that we can improve further”
Sources: Mercedes GP Petronas – www.mercedesgp.com/mediaPress Officers: Nicola Armstrong, Wolfgang Schattling, Bradley Lord