Mercedes had a clear objective going into the 2011 season, to close the gap to the top three teams. Having finished 4th in their first year back as a constructor after a fifty five year absence, the Ross Brawn lead outfit unveiled their MGP W02 on the eve of the first test in Valencia in February. Testing didn’t go as smoothly as was expected but driver , Nico Rosberg was still confident that the team was moving in the right direction to catch Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren ahead of them. “We’ve made good progress over the four tests. It’s perhaps been a more difficult winter than we expected but everyone has worked really hard and pushed on with the new upgrades so that we have the car that we want for the start of the season. We haven’t got the fastest car yet but we are going in the right direction. The handling is better, the car has more grip, and is generally more fun to drive.”
Australia wasn’t the positive start that Brawn and Co. were hoping for. Both cars were off the pace in qualifying with Rosberg in 7th and Schumacher in 11th. In the race neither driver saw the chequered flag as Schumacher damaged his car in a collision with Alguersuari and Rosberg was speared side on by an impetuous move by Barrichello.
Seven times world champion, Michael Schumacher, was looking to get his comeback into full swing after a disappointing 2010 where he was shown a clean pair of heels by Nico Rosberg. He has continued to struggle to match the pace of his team-mate in qualifying where he has only started ahead of Rosberg on one occasion, at Monaco. Schumacher has shown glimpses of his former brilliance but has also shown his uncompromising driving style which has seen him lose several front wings so far.
Schumacher looked to be on to deliver the first podium of the season for Mercedes, at Canada he gaving virtuoso performance in the mixed conditions. The German was running in second behind championship leader Vettel when has was caught by Webber and Button on the drying track. He was left defenceless as the duo took no time to pass in the first DRS activation zone to finish an agonising 4th. The next race, at Spa marks the 20th anniversary of his Grand Prix debut for Jordan where he’s hoping to turn back the clock. “This is where I drove my first ever Formula One race 20 years ago. It’s hard to believe that this was such a long time ago. A lot has changed in those 20 years,” he added, “Talking about the sporting side prior to Spa, we are all returning from the summer break with fresh motivation and energy, and will try to set an exclamation mark at the Belgian Grand Prix.”
Nico Rosberg, again has enjoyed the upper hand over his team-mate but there must be some frustration bubbling away underneath his cool exterior. Having visited the podium twice last year, the young German must have thought this would be his breakthrough year. Midway through his seventh season in Formula 1, the 26 year old is now a veteran of 100 races and must be growing impatient to get his hands on race winning machinery now that he holds the record for scoring the most points without winning a race. With a new contract signed to keep him with Mercedes until 2016, they must have convinced him that they are the team to deliver him a race/title winning car.
With Mercedes failing to close the gap on the top three teams, their battle is now with Renault for the title of best of the rest. With only 16 points separating them in the constructors championship, this battle could provide an interesting side show to the battle to catch Vettel up at the front. A battle I think they should win.