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A personal review of the F1 year – Mercedes
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A personal review of the F1 year – Mercedes
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Dec 2010   |  2:41 pm GMT  |  57 comments

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

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57 Comments
  1. NamedMyKidAyrton says:

    Nice anaylisis; thanks as always, James. Your closing comment implying Ross Brawn may be tired and ready to call it quits soon must be a worry at Mercedes. Is there any weight to all that talk about culture clashes with the German contingent? It’d be a pity to see Brawn step down. Hard to believe the team is capable of (and worth) the same achievements with or without him.

    I sure hope Mercedes step it up in 2011 and we have another true contestant. Despite the three podiums (podia?) the Silver Arrows were a non-factor all year long – closer to Renault and Williams than to Ferrari.

    I agree that Rosberg looked like the real deal this year. As much respect as I have for Schumacher, the age curve (maturity vs aging) plays in Nico’s favor. Unless the team (for commercial reasons perhaps?) is taking favorites already at the design stage and building a car just for Schumacher, I don’t see Nico trailing his team mate in 2011.

    Can’t wait for the new season!

    1. James Allen says:

      I’m not saying Ross is tired, merely that that he’s started talking about this being his last team and he’ll be thinking about succession soon.

      1. NamedMyKidAyrton says:

        Not trying to put words in your mouth. I just think it’s a bit of a sad prospect because the sport would lose someone hugely talented. There are a handful of folks (e.g., Brawn, Newey) that I’d love to see sticking around for a long, long time. Unrealistic as that may be.

      2. JB says:

        If I were Norbert Haug I’d be starting to think about Dave Richards. Not the engineering genius that Brawn is, but that’s not a requisite of a team principal. His track record of getting results is undeniable in rallying, sports cars, touring cars etc.

        His previous tenure at BAR/Honda turned the team around, and if Honda had not terminated the relationship then I’m sure Button would have been champion a couple of years earlier.

      3. monktonnik says:

        I agree with that.

        Dave Richards is fantastic in my opinion.

    2. Galapago555 says:

      “Despite the three podiums (podia?)”

      According to my dictionary (Collins), both “podiums” and “podia” are correct.

      http://diccionario.reverso.net/ingles-definiciones/podium

      I personally would write (and especially say) “podiums”, but if you look back at the Latin origin of the word, “podia” should be the right one.

      1. DonSimon says:

        I think you’ll find the word is pedant. Thats p-e-d-a-n-t. (Just a bit of light hearted fun!)

      2. Galapago555 says:

        It’s fantastic to be called pedant when you’re writting in a foreing language. So your “light hearted fun” is sincerely appreciated.

        [mod]

      3. James Allen says:

        Enough of that [mod]

      4. NamedMyKidAyrton says:

        Far from my intention, but fair and fun enough :)

    3. RickeeBoy says:

      James, An excellent balanced and fair article as usual. Personally, I see Mercedes in it for the long haul and see that the expense for F1 is minimal as far as the Global Marketing is now concerned. Adverts and TV advertising is now totally diminishing therefore F1 is a superb tool to get in front of audiences. Their start may have been inauspicious but they have huge resources and like Sportscars in Porsche and laterly Audi( they are damn Germans and they do stuff well – respect from watching Sportcars for 45 years )
      It may take a while to build an understanding and quick moving Team but (we know) they are capable. My worry is that with the domination of the Team Brits in F1 for the last 45 years that they start getting it right and moving operations to Germany.

  2. Tony Salles says:

    Don’t forget to do a WILLIAMS personal review too!

  3. S.J.M says:

    I hope Mercedes (and all “new” team owners) dont go the way of current Football team owners within the English leagues, wanting and expecting instant results. Mercedes have a lot going for them, a proven leader and designer in Ross Brawn, a proven winner in Schumacher and a star-in-the-making in the form of Nico Rosberg. Mercedes would be stupid to make any snap judgements based on last season and expect too much too soon, and as a team who have roots in motorsport (and who is to know how long they would have stayed in F1 if its wasnt for a tragic day in ’55) I do hope they stick around for the longterm. The foundations are there.

    We all relished the idea that 8 drivers from 4 teams being in the hunt for the title last season, although it didnt quite happen that way (5 Drivers did keep us excited), its still the realms of possibility that it can happen this coming season. I hope it does. I want to see what Rosberg can do with a competitive car, and whether Schuey really can still cut it (im willing to reserve judgements after last season)

    1. Ajay says:

      I really don’t think they’d do a BMW style “One bad season and we’re outta here!” escape. For starters they aren’t spending as much as BMW were with Sauber. Also, with two customer teams they’re less likely to cut and run.

      Here’s hoping Mercedes have a good 2011. Assuming nobody comes up with an extremely efficient implementation of the movable rear wing, or some new trick device for next season, we just might get to see 4 teams in the thick of the title fight.

  4. Nando says:

    15 teams following up a championship season with a winless seems very high.

    James, any chance of a post on the Mosely era. Astonishing statement that he’s come out with in german autosport and he probably thinks it’s ok. He’s admitting to using the FIA purely based on his own interests!

    Google translated
    “Then I would take a chance it because we all know that they do not get anyway. Then came my affair with the newspaper in between. Ferrari racing team was the only one who behaved towards me loyal. So I could hardly something against their interests prevail. This affair has tilted my plan from the budget limit.”

    1. d-d says:

      I remember how long it took to dismantle Mosley from his post after “his affair” when he was arrogantly arguing that there was no reason for dimission. Now everybody can see how wrong it was to keep him so long. Ultimately it damaged the sport, as expected.

    2. Damian J says:

      And Spygate?????

  5. smellyden says:

    http://www.marca.com/2010/12/26/motor/formula1/1293364309.html?a=637e19da926ac1e9774b08b38f20333c&t=1293473201

    James in the article above Alonso is coming out fighting and saying he would not be scared having Vettel as a team mate. How he has never been outscored by a team-mate in his career. Where are these noises coming from that Vettel would join? I also thought as you said Ferrari likes to build champions and not bring them in. So this would fly in the face of this philosophy also I thought Kubica was more on there radar, any thoughts?

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s normal when someone goes well. Mateschitz made reference to Vettel and Ferrari a few weeks ago, saying they were pleased to be holding on to him etc. Ferrari’s near future is based on Alonso, but I can see Vettel there in the long term, maybe

    2. Lilla My says:

      Re building champions: they did however make an exception for Schumacher and now Alonso. So why not Vettel at some point in the future?

      1. smellyden says:

        As well I thought Vettel was more on the radar for Mercedes than the prancing horse!

      2. Lilla My says:

        If he’s a real Baby Schumi then he should first get one more championship with Red Bull, then go to Ferrari and only then jump to Mercedes. Even though I would see Vettel rather in Mercedes than Ferrari (my private opinion based on my biased feelings), I think this is all a bit of a heat of the moment – Vettel’s become the youngest world champion, so everybody now makes plans for his (great?) future and puts him in every team possible. The fact that we have a winter break and nothing’s going on adds to that as well. Meanwhile Vettel is, I think, comfortable with Red Bull – apparently they love him there and they will (most probably) give him a fast car yet again. Also Ferrari and Alonso seem a pretty perfect match and he’s their neerest future. So everybody seems to be quite happy for some time and as the future can be unpredictable, we must just wait and see what happens :).

    3. For Sure says:

      Alonso is very different to Schumacher in that aspect. He always find away to boast himself, like I overtook big names Nikki Lauder blur blur. I don’t see Lewis saying “Oh I have beaten all my teammates including a double world champion and a reigning world champion.”

  6. E.L. says:

    As someone who lives near the Brackley area, the word here is Schumacher signed a five year contract (three for driving, the rest for managing). Are you hearing the same thing James?

    1. James Allen says:

      I see him staying around as an ambassador for Mercedes for ever, probably. As JYS was for Ford. I don’t really see him ‘managing’. As for whether he drives for the full three years, I think he’ll wait and see how the first half dozen races in 2011 go first

  7. Andy says:

    I think Mercedes (Brawn) were probably the only team, along with Renault, in the top half of the field (from 2009) to take the resource agreement seriously, and this has had an impact on their performance. I would be interested to know what the actual operating costs were for all teams. I suspect Mercedes were much closer to the newer teams and the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari paid little attention to budgets now that Mosely has gone.

    1. Divesh says:

      Hi James

      With regards to the quote below, “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.”

      When do the other teams have to comply with the Resource Restriction agreement and is there any chance on the big teams somehow backing out on the original deal leaving them holding all the aces in terms of resources?

      1. James Allen says:

        By end of 2011, but there are plans afoot to lessen effect of it

      2. Divesh says:

        So this might work out negatively for teams like Mercedes and Renault then, as they could have had extra resources but chose to comply with the Resource restriction and the other teams did not.

      3. JB says:

        I’m not sure the cuts at Brawn were motivated by the RRA, but for pure enconomic reasons so that the team could compete in 2010. Ross Brawn could never hope to replace the previous massive backing by Honda with sponsorship money. The cuts were necasary for the team tto be viable.

  8. gsdg says:

    James, please could you elaborate on Michael’s view that he will win an Eighth World Championship?

    He has been very clear on this point and while one should not doubt the word of the driver who has won more races and championships in history, is this realistic? As you know him very well, your deeper insight into this would be appreciated.

  9. Dave Roberts says:

    James,

    Another insightful viewpoint. Talking of insight, do you have an inside track on the BBC commentary line up? It would be interesting to know what the BBC are planning and also if you were to run an article on it know what others think about whatever developments there are.

  10. Brad says:

    Lets be honest, the only good car to come from this team was the brawn, other than that they have all been dogs right from the BAR Reynard supertec!! For some reason they just are not able to design a good car. i say that but the only other good one was the dave richards era when button was challenging msc all season coming 2nd….. was it 05 or 06??

    1. Martin says:

      2004 was the year. 2005 and 2006 were still good cars that were successfully developed towards the end of the season.

      1. Ajay says:

        They had a good run from ’03 to ’06. If not challenging for titles outright, they were still near the top of the midfield. The only real dogs from BAR/Honda this decade were the ’07 and ’08 cars.

  11. Paul Kirk says:

    Great stories, James, and they are also generating some very knowledgable and well written comments. Many thanks! Re your comment about weight distribution issues with the Mercs—–Why have they put a weight distribution rule in the 2011 regs? Whose idea was it and what is the purpose of it? And how did the powers that be arive at the percentages they did? I mean, it is a tuning/balancing tool to fine tune the handling to suit different drivers’ styles/tracks/characteristics.
    PK.

    1. James Allen says:

      THe big teams called for it to eliminate the risk that a small team not running KERS could have an advantage if the Pirellis turned out to require a certain distribution. It was a decision taken within FOTA. I wrote about it during Brazil weekend.

      1. jonrob says:

        Yes indeed, only the big teams are allowed to have an advantage.

  12. Martin says:

    The 15 teams not winning has prompted me to look at why:

    1952: Alfa Romeo withdrew from the series due to a lack of money to develop a new car.
    1956: Mercedes withdrew after Le Mans 1955.
    1958: Maserati car was outdated
    1959: Vanwall withdrew after winning the first proper constructors title in 1958.
    1961: Ferrari and Lotus did a better job with the new 1.5 litre formula than Cooper.
    1962: Ferrari internal upheavals apparently and Lotus and BRM to the fore.
    1965: Ferrari outclassed by Lotus
    1968: Brabham’s, Repco no match for Cosworth
    1970: Tyrell’s Matra-Fords of 1969 became Marchs and won one race.
    1971: Tyrell were the only Cosworth team to win against BRM and Ferrari, i.e Lotus didn’t.
    1979: The Lotus 80 got the aero wrong
    1980: Ferrari likewise made a mess of evolving ground effects.
    1988: Williams – McLaren Honda versus reactive suspension and Judd
    1996: Benetton. No Schumacher. Williams just better that year.
    1998: Williams. New rules, old engines, Newey was working for McLaren.
    2007: Renault got the Bridgestone tyre models wrong, no Alonso.
    2010: Brawn/Mercedes as James stated.

    There appears to be one I haven’t found as I have 14/17, not 15/18 cases. It is certainly happening less frequently in recent times.

    Cheers,

    Martin

    1. Martin says:

      I missed the Lancia-Ferraris in 1957, which gives 4 cases prior to the first constructors championship. I guess if you exclude the Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Vanwall cases based on not taking part you get 15 championship winning teams not winning the year after. In 1958 Ferrari won the drivers title with Hawthorn and Brooks won in 1959. This is the only example that I found that was relevant to the question of not winning the following year where the drivers title winner was not driving for the winning constructor.

      In the a lot of cases, having the right engine made a big difference. The engines changed size a fair bit until 1966. The Cosworth engine had good and bad years, which probably reflects development funding. Brawn/Mercedes appears to be unique in failing when it had the best engine. Also the rules were pretty stable, so this reflects the pace of development by other teams and how good the Brawn was straight out of the factory in early 2009.

      1. Ajay says:

        Good work there Martin. Seeing how it’s happened only 4 times in the last 22 seasons (1988-2010) compared to 9 times between 1958 and 1980 I’d say it also reflects on how championship winning teams tend to be a lot more stable these days.

        The last two decades have been about Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Benetton/Renault dominating most seasons. I don’t think we’ve seen that kind of stability ever before.

  13. Joe Szpara says:

    James,

    Who do you think is more likely to join Ferrari first, Kubica or Vettel?.

    I always thought Kubica would be heading over there in 2012 depending on how Massa does but if not then surely 2013?

    1. James Allen says:

      I can see Kubica in the same team as Alonso, but I don’t see Vettel in that situation.

  14. trnarrows says:

    James,
    Nico Rosberg feels the new Pirelli tires are similar or “worse” than the Bridgestones and not suited to his style, while Schumacher feels that it is more suited to his style. Also there is an obvious difference in the times set by the two in the Pirelli tests. Also some drivers suggest that it has a more stronger front than the rears. How does it affect the design of the car? Could it be more oversteery?

    1. James Allen says:

      You’ve got to factor in the weight distribution, which looks like it’s set more forwards than might be desirable with front tyres such as these, so yes, you could be right. Rosberg is quite clever at managing expectations – think about how he handled the arrival of Schumacher last year – so he may not be in such bad shape as he makes out.

  15. RKU says:

    Really enjoying your commentary style team season reviews. Much more interesting than the typical season reviews in other blogs. Also, your book this year was great. Thank you for your great work.

  16. jmv says:

    James, can you shed some light (maybe in other feature article) on the resource restriction agreement… was it in place during this 2010 season already?

    How is measured what teams spend etc, and how does it result in fair competition?

    I ask since you wrote that Mercedes has cut its workforce to make it being well set up for the RRA…

    Myself and I think many others do not clearly understand how it works and the impact on the daily business of F1.. spending resources to develop the cars.

    Also Mosley claimed that RBR overspent.. what does this mean? unfair competition?

    1. Eric Weinraub says:

      I agree that the RRA has not really been full covered… Ferrari, RBR, and McLaren were using the full weight of their resorces to both develope their cars AND fight for the 2010 WC crowns… I can’t see them able to replicate that feat whilst massively reducing staff and restructuring management. Brawn/Mercedes showed us how hard that can be. I found Alonso’s comment about how Ferrari will give him the car he dreams of a bit pie in the sky given the changes coming.

  17. Andy C says:

    This will be one of the most interesting matchups in 2011.

    While I’m yet to be convinced Mercedes will produce a stunning car for 2011, I think Nico did brilliantly well last year.

    I must admit I feared for him against Michael, with all of the history for Merc, Ross and Michael.

    But Nico did a great job, and did his talking on the track (the best possible response).

    James
    You’ve written a book on Michael. I was quite interested to read Sterling Moss’s and some other comments that Michael never really had a real top class driver, so some of his achievements were overstated.

    What are your observations on that? From my perspective, you cant fluke that many titles ;-)

    1. For Sure says:

      You never know what’s going on behind the closed doors. But it is clear that it’s nothing more than personal hatred from Moss.
      Back in his days, they partied the night before the races. Fitness level between today f1 drivers and the ones in 50s are obviously a world apart. So Moss had no idea what it takes I guess. When someone is so successful, obviously it is very easy to hate him when you don’t know what it takes. Alain Prost never does that because he knows what it takes.
      And it is a shame that Moss made those below the belt comments.

      1. jonrob says:

        The average speeds were not that much lower than today, on tyres of half the width, no aero and no seat belt.

  18. Lilla My says:

    I must say I started to really like Rosberg this year. Before that, I thought he was a Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike and a champion of practice sessions, but this year he proved he can be a solid and quite faultless driver. I’m not sure if he’s got the spark of Alonso, Hamilton or Vettel, but from all the descendants of the past world champions we’ve seen lately on the track, he seems the best :).
    As for Shuey, it was somehow painful to see him almost invisible throughout most of the races, fighting in the midfield, but the moment that proved he hasn’t lost “it” and was still willing to fight was IMHO (apart from Hungary) in Monaco when he passed Alonso. I know that the manoeuvre was illegal and so Alonso didn’t even try to defend his posotion, but in that glimpse of the moment Schumacher showed that he won’t miss any opportunity.
    And so I hope next year’s Mercedes will be better for the sake of both drivers.

  19. monktonnik says:

    A disappointing season from a fans point of view.

    Interesting that the rear of the car was the stumbling block this year, when it was so good in 2009.

    The potential of a better Mercedes/Schumacher/Rosberg next year is tantalising if everyone else keeps apace.

  20. jonrob says:

    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?
    Will he be allowed to though? It seems that the new car is being designed to suit Schumacher as coincidentally do the tyres. Really the only thing in Nico’s favour is that it’s not Ferrari!

  21. jonrob says:

    The RRA what does it say? Is it a total secret like the Concorde agreement? Will we in the next few years have ALL rules and regs secret?
    Too much now refers back to the concorde agreement so we can only guess.
    Will we be waiting until the first race to see what the cars look like and then have penalties for unknown infringements? If it gets any more secret I shall have to stop watching.

  22. Ryan Eckford says:

    2010 wasn’t a great year for Mercedes after winning both championships the year before, but considering the funds that Brawn was using to build the car before Mercedes came on board, fourth in the Constructors Championship was the best result they could have got.

    The categories that I measured the 2010 cars in include:
    Car Driveability, All Round Car Ability, Low Downforce Circuits, Medium Downforce Circuits, High Downforce Circuits, High Speed Circuits, Medium Speed Circuits and Low Speed Circuits.

    The categories in order of strength for the MGP W01 are:
    1. High Downforce Circuits(4th)
    2. All Round Car Ability(4th)
    3. Medium Speed Circuits(4th)
    4. High Speed Circuits(4th)
    5. Low Downforce Circuits(4th)
    6. Low Speed Circuits(4th)
    7. Medium Downforce Circuits(5th)
    8. Car Driveability(5th)

    Rosberg had a good solid year once again, nothing totally out of the ordinary, just good solid speed. Schumacher had an indifferent year, but was expected and totally understandable. He still has some of his spark with him and 2011 will provide a better picture about him. Overall, a solid year from Mercedes, but far from where they want to be.

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