2009 Constructors World Champions Brawn GP became Mercedes GP in 2010. Investment from Mercedes Benz helped to stabilise the team that went through uncertain times over the past 2 years with the pullout by Honda and the uncertainty of the future of Brawn GP.
The Mercedes buyout meant a secure future for the team and a return of the Silver Arrows to Grand Prix racing. With the return of this iconic name to the sport, Mercedes decided to bring another icon back and 2010 marked the return to Formula 1 for 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher.
Michael’s return out of retirement in 2006 to partner new signing Nico Rosberg was seen as a good partnership. Nico had shown some good performances for the Williams team but never quite had the machinery to fight for podiums and wins. Joining Mercedes would give him the ability to fight closer to the front of the pack.
The all-German team raised expectations for fans. Everyone wanted to know how Michael would get on after being out of racing since 2006 and how he would handle racing against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and teaming up with Ross Brawn again reunited the dream team from there Ferrari years.
With the expectation came many troubles. A conservative approach to the 2010 car meant that the team struggled throughout the season. Working on the car under the Brawn guise in 2009 amidst the backdrop of staff cuts and uncertainty over the teams’ future meant that the design of the 2010 car was not as aggressive as it should have been.
Problems with understeer affected Michael Schumacher more than Nico Rosberg. Michael has been known to favour a car that slightly oversteers and early through the season he was unable to get the best out of the package. Mercedes followed the route of the other teams in introducing their version of the ‘f’-duct, but their design differed to the other teams. With Mercedes not running a shark-fin engine cover, their blown rear wing worked by feeding the air through the duct in the car and up through the end-plates of the rear wing where it exited out of the centre of the wing.
For 2011, there will be stability and security for Mercedes. Learning from the mistakes of the W01 and more development going into the 2011 car should provide a stronger base for the team. With the added bonus of the strongest engine on the grid and the best KERS system, if Mercedes can get the best out of the aero package of the W02, they will close in on the teams above them and be within a chance of wins again.
The 7 times World Champion returned to Formula 1 after 3 years out of the sport, teaming up with Ross Brawn again and driving for Mercedes, which he last did in sportcars before embarking on his Formula 1 career.
Question marks were raised over the return of Schumacher, whether he had the desire and motivation to win again, whether or not he would have the pace after 3 years out of the sport and whether or not he had fully recovered from a crash he suffered last year in a motorcycle race, which subsequently prevented him from replacing Felipe Massa at Ferrari during the Brazilians recovery following his Hungarian Grand Prix crash.
Struggling all through the 2010 season, Michael’s best finish was 4th place, which he claimed 3 times during the season. Qualifying struggles, with Schumacher regularly not being able to make it out of the second session, meant a lot of midfield starts and caught up in incidents in the pack.
The balance of the W01 was not suited to Michael’s liking; he suffered with excessive understeer which the team were never able to cure. Michael is hoping that the characteristics of the Pirelli tyres will help him achieve a better balance in the W02 and once the car hits the track, his experience in developing a Formula 1 race car will be invaluable to Mercedes as they hope to catch the teams above them.
How the season unfolds for Michael will depend on whether or not he continues this comeback. He would expect to be fighting for race wins and to try and claim an 8th world title. If he ends up having another season like 2010 and is unable to race the 3 teams that were above Mercedes last year, he could decide to call time on his return as it would be hard to see Michael being around for 3-5 years working on building the team up to the front again.
After four years with the Williams team, Nico joined Mercedes for 2010 with the hope of taking the next step in his race career to claim his first win and work towards a championship charge.
2010 started off well as he was able to get the best out of the car at the start of the season and he was able to claim podium finishes in Malaysia and China. As the season went on, and talk of the development focus shifting towards Michael Schumacher’s driving style, Rosberg struggled to match these early season results.
Getting the better of Michael throughout the season would have undoubtedly have been a confidence boost for Nico, and the only one of Michael’s team-mates to do so means that it was not an easy achievement, especially amidst the talk of the teams focus being aimed towards his team mate.
Nico has the ability to win races; in 2011 he just needs the car to allow him the chance to do so. If Mercedes can improve the performance of the W02, expect Nico Rosberg to join the front runners and claim his 1st Formula 1 win.