To say Mercedes have had a turbulent start to 2011 would be an understatement. Lacklustre displays of pace in the opening two rounds from both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg meant that when the German marque’s bigwigs turned up to witness their F1 programme first-hand, tensions were high.
Twelve months ago the younger German fought hard to secure a maiden podium for the returning manufacturer and after managing to work through the Q2 traffic on Saturday, sealed a second row start with fourth. When the lights went out and the McLarens shot past Vettel, Rosberg pushed to pass also but fell back to defending from the Ferraris as everyone settled into their races. If this was 2010 it would have been game over for any chance of a podium. But thankfully, due to the magic of Pirelli, DRS and KERS, his afternoon wasn’t anywhere near over.
With the first round of pit-stops underway Nico scuttled in from fourth for new tyres and exited down in 10th. Stopping on lap 13 meant he was on a three-stopper, and being on the harder prime rubber meant slower lap times for a while. All the cars around him stopped roughly over the same period: Button mistook the Red Bull garage for his own and backed up Vettel on lap 15, while Hamilton (lap 15), Massa (lap 15) and Alonso (lap 16) all came in too.
After that brief shuffle, a few viewers had to wipe their eyes a little harder from the early race start to see who was out in front. Rosberg led by a whopping 5 seconds, from Vettel. Some of us in the Sett couldn’t quite believe it, sparking this Twitter conversation between myself and Jimmy:
@OneCraigNorman – “Wait, Rosberg has pitted and LEADS?!”
@JimmyVonWeeks – “Has he stopped!?”
@OneCraigNorman – “I think so. This is so confusing!”
@JimmyVonWeeks – “Good though!”
Eventually Rosberg dropped back and thanks to an issue with fuel consumption didn’t deliver a result that the stint in the lead promised. Of course, the young German was disappointed and knew the chance had been there.
“Naturally I’m disappointed with the race today as we know that we didn’t make the most of our opportunity out there,” he said. “We’ve made a big step with the car this weekend which is really nice to see and we will have better races in future. Leading the race for such a long time was a great feeling but we had issues with the fuel consumption which made it really difficult to fight for position.
“We could have had a podium finish or maybe more today, but we will learn from this together as a team and make sure that we get the results next time.”
The thing to take from this is that the wily Ross Brawn has dusted off his thinking cap from the late-nineties and wants to show he’s still got it. Without the weight of owning a team on his shoulders anymore, maybe the master strategist that we all remember him for is starting to come to the fore once more.