Continuing the series of personal look backs on the season, in no particular order, as they say..
Mercedes GP Team, 0 wins, 3 podiums, 0 poles – 4th in Constructors’ Championship
I remember saying towards the end of the 2009 season, when the Brawn team was fending off McLaren and Red Bull for the championship, that in 2010 they would be the fourth place team and so it proved. It was a combination of limited resources and having to divert much of them to winning the 2009 title at the expense of the 2010 car.
The cutbacks in what was Honda during the early part of 2009 and then when Mercedes took over at the end of the year meant that the team was well set up for the Resource Restriction Agreement. They had taken the pain early, rather than follow a glidepath downwards in staff numbers, as the other top teams are now doing. This should mean Mercedes could have their moment soon. But the price they paid for that was the car was not great, well adrift of Red Bull pace and about 3-4 tenths off the McLaren as a rule.
And it stayed not great, as Ross Brawn took the decision to stop developing the car mid season. Ironically it still went faster in the closing stages of the season, but that was largely because they were learning more about how to set it up.
But it was clear that Renault’s challenge to their fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship would be limited by having Petrov in one of the cars, so Mercedes was always likely to be able to keep its nose ahead.
It was always going to be a tough task to match the 2009 double championship winning performance, but Brawn, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher will still have hoped to challenge for podiums and race wins. Mercedes’ management will have hoped for more too as it was a pretty bold move to zig when all the other manufacturers were zagging – to pile in and buy your own team as most manufacturers were pulling out or downsizing to engine suppliers.
Brawn was open about the mistakes made in the design of the car when speaking at the end of the season. He laid the blame on the downsizing of the team numbers, the conservative approach that came from the group of engineers tasked with designing the car as a result and in particular the rear end of the car, which wasn’t state of the art aerodynamically.
Right from winter testing we were hearing from rival team engineers that the car had some weight distribution problems too. So there were echoes of the awkwardness on the design side of the car, which we used to see when the team was Honda and which were so radically different on that amazing 2009 car, which became the Brawn.
The upshot was, Silver Arrows became only the 15th team to follow up a championship winning season with a winless one while Schumacher suffered the first win-free season of his career. After three years on the sidelines, Schuey really struggled to recreate the form which saw him win 91 races as he struggled with the tyres. On a positive note, he showed some of his old self towards the end of the season and Rosberg had a far less comfortable time of it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his actions, his move to put Barrichello into the pit wall in Hungary showed that he still means business. The worrying thing for him will be that driving around car imbalance problems was always part of his gift and he didn’t show that this year. Maybe now he’s fully match fit and with a new car fitted with Pirelli tyres, which sound like they should suit give him the firm corner turn-in he wants, he should be able to get some results.
Rosberg had a fantastic year, outdrove his more illustrious teammate, securing the team’s three podiums in Malaysia, China and Great Britain and usually managed to finish the races ahead of where he qualified. I saw him mature as a driver and as a person in 2010 and I’ll be watching him very closely in 2011 if he gets a car that can challenge. Does he have what it takes to do what Vettel has done this year and go out and dominate weekends?
I really feel the pressure is on Mercedes for 2011. Yes the global car market is improving and for companies like Mercedes the emerging markets – Brazil, India, China etc hold huge potential and yes there are few better marketing platforms than F1 for a brand like Mercedes. But the top brass will want to see some results this year. I also think Ross Brawn, having done so much over the years will surely start thinking soon about a life less pressured. I’m not sure how much he’s enjoying working with the Mercedes people and imagine he will be thinking about his succession plan soon. I’m very interested to see whom he lines up.
All photos; Darren Heath