The Mercedes garage must be an interesting place to be a fly-on-the-wall at the moment. Along with the marque’s return to Formula One after 55 years of non-competing or being simply an engine supplier, they have also hired two drivers with whom come a lot of anticipation and expectation. On one side of the garage sits Nico Rosberg, more towards the beginning of his career than the end but by no means inexperienced. Also considered by many to be quick, intelligent and possibly a champion of the future given the right car. A few feet to Rosberg’s side sits a driver at the other end of his career, but also carrying a lot of expectation. Michael Schumacher is regarded by many to be one of the greatest drivers, but so far in 2010, things haven’t been going the Red Baron’s way…
Both Rosberg and Schumacher are intelligent enough to not allow their publicly visible relationship to descend into a war of words. Nico has rarely had a bad word to say about anybody during his frustrating tenure at Williams and Schumacher is old enough to know better. And likewise, Schumacher rarely slates his team mate in public. However, even before the season began one got the sense that little mind games were already being played behind the scenes.
Rosberg was signed to Mercedes first, his contract presumably much easier to negotiate than Schumacher’s. It was because of this that initially, Rosberg was given the number three for this season. However, after signing on the dotted line, Schumacher asked if he could have the leading number, stating that he is a little superstitious and prefers odd numbers.
At the time both drivers shrugged and laughed it off, with Rosberg saying that he doesn’t really care what number he is assigned. But one still got the sense that the two were playing with each other a little, perhaps trying to get under the skin and rock the boat.
In Bahrain, the season’s opening round, Rosberg pretty much trounced Schumacher, going faster in every session and ultimately finishing ahead of his fellow countryman and thus scoring more points. Rosberg leads Schumacher in the championship by two points. Of course, the campaign is one race young and much will happen between now and the final race in Abu Dhabi, but the Bahrain weekend was far from ideal for the multiple champion.
It was reported in some press that Schumacher asked for his garage to be moved around as he felt uncomfortable with the way Mercedes organised everything. In the post-session interviews, Schumacher looked downcast and although remained professional, didn’t smile as much as he had pre-season and was clearly aggravated by something.
Moving on to Australia, and Schumacher appears much happier. Smiling and laughing more when faced with the media he definitely seems more relaxed. However, on the track the story hasn’t really changed. In the opening practice session in Melbourne, Rosberg led Schumacher by 1.4s. After lunch, Nico was beaten for the first time this year by Schumacher, the elder driver improving to end up 0.4s ahead. Qualifying saw a return to previous order though, with Rosberg 0.1s faster in P6.
The statements made after qualifying were interesting, and the dynamic between the pair is starting to develop. After his effort to qualify in P7, Michael Schumacher had the following to say to the media.
We had a reasonable qualifying session today and I am okay with the outcome even if I was a bit handicapped by traffic, especially on my final quick lap. We made some changes with the car after practice this morning which did not work out perfectly. But in general I would guess the ranking that we see now reflects the situation well and our performance is probably the maximum for our car at the moment. Anyhow, we still have a lot in hand for tomorrow’s race, and I am on the clean side of the grid for the start. As we all know, a lot can happen over the course of a race. Michael Schumacher.
So Michael is okay by his performance today and that of the car as well. The world champion feels he got the most performance from the MGP-W01. Admitting to a hindrance from traffic, Schumacher smiled his way through the interview and what he said to the BBC straight after qualifying is pretty much what Mercedes have released to the press above.
Now let’s look at what Nico Rosberg had to say about his qualifying performance today.
It was a disappointing qualifying today as I had made really good progress during practice with my engineers but didn’t do the best job when it mattered. I made a couple of mistakes on my best lap on the option tyres which cost me three or four tenths. There was more in the car today so it’s always frustrating when you don’t get the most out of it. It’s not typical for me to make such mistakes in qualifying. But that’s the way it goes sometimes and sixth position is still a good place to start. We should be stronger in the race and anything can happen tomorrow. Nico Rosberg.
So both drivers are fairly optimistic about tomorrow, suggesting they are stronger in the race than they are in qualifying. However, Rosberg seemed more downcast and frustrated than his team mate. Nico admitted he made a mistake on his hot lap, but also pointed out that this was unlike him. The Finnish/German driver was generally saying he could have got more from the car and this frustrated him. In other words, Rosberg is saying he could have gone even faster. This is what he had to say to the BBC right after qualifying.
I’m pleased because we made a lot of progress from this morning – I’ve been struggling all weekend – and progressed a lot.
But then, however, didn’t get the best out of it in qualifying. I could have done a lot better than that: I think three or four tenths at least because I was off the road on my fastest lap but that’s the way it is and still sixth place is a good place to start.
It’s not typical for me to make such mistakes in qualifying normally. Nico Rosberg.
Apart from admitting to his team that his qualifying position was down to himself and taking the blame on his shoulders, Rosberg is sending a message, loud and clear, to the other side of the garage. I could have gone even faster.
Now that Rosberg has a little momentum over Schumacher, it will be interesting to see how number three will deal with this. Schumacher has, in the past, been very loyal to his teams and despite not wanting to lose, does appreciate the effort made by the team and understands the need for the family to be treated well and receiving regular points, be it from either driver. However, both drivers are very competitive and we have seen on many occasions just how determined Michael can be. While I doubt the pair would ever have an argument in the press, I can see the little games continuing throughout the year.
Images © MercedesGP.