Vettel celebrates. Photo: AP/Victor R. Caviano
There’s trouble at Mercedes. This weekend at Valencia was meant to be an opportunity for the team to improve on their results in Canada two weeks ago, where Schumacher in particular had a challenging time. However, once again qualifying turned into a disaster, with both drivers unable to extract enough pace from the MGP W01 to even get into the top ten.
Collectively they accumulated just one point but only as a result of several penalties handed down to other drivers, which left Rosberg in a race adjusted 10th position. Mercedes have a problem right now and Schumacher’s second mediocre outing in as many races will do little to silence critics who’ve been hounding the German ace since Canada, fueling speculation over his position in the team, and his future in the sport.
The trouble stemmed from qualifying where again the Mercedes car turned into a lumbering clunker. Rosberg struggled to 12th spot on the grid and Schumacher was only able to grab 15th leaving it all to do in the race proper.
It was a repeat of the Canadian GP qualifying performance, but today’s race was not going to allow Rosberg the chance of reclaiming multiple spots to get anywhere near fourth. "It wasn't a great race for me today and not much fun out there.” admitted a disappointed Rosberg who celebrates his 25th birthday today. “I struggled for grip throughout and had to work really hard to save my brakes which completely took away the ability to challenge and try to make up positions. But we tried to look for the positives and learn something because you can always learn from any situation and use the experiences later. It's been a poor weekend from us all round and we have to try to resolve our issues and improve from here."
(Birthday wishes don't come true all the time and Nico Rosberg admitted today's performance by the Mercedes team was poor. Photo courtesy of Mercedes GP Petronas)
"What a race.” noted Schumacher having brought his car in 15th. “ We would like to have clarification about the safety car situation as the red light on the exit from my first pit stop destroyed a race which otherwise would have offered us very good possibilities. Our point of view is that as the safety car had passed the pits without having the cars lined up behind it, there should not have been a red light. There was a green light for a moment and then suddenly it went red again. We believe that this was not correct. Our strategy was right in that context as we took the opportunity which could have given us a finish even close to the podium."
(Michael Schumacher was a disheartening 15th today thanks to penalties again during a confusing safety car period following Webber's huge accident. Photo courtesy of Mercedes GP Petronas)
The safety car period saw several drivers penalized for not entering the pit lane within the minimum time period. Lewis Hamilton somehow overtook the safety car and suffered a drive through penalty, but the safety car period caused all kinds of pandemonium today as teams frantically brought in drivers for tires and many lost places they couldn’t make up.
The drama was caused by a massive accident between Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus. Webber, having got off to a disastrous race start began clawing back places. On lap seven he struck the back of Kovalainen’s car, flying into the air and landing upside down. The car righted it self on its wheels again before careening into a tire barrier. Incredibly, Webber emerged from the accident unscathed. See a Speed TV wrap of the race and that accident in detail here: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid71457653001?bctid=103904324001
Webber’s team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, was able to capitalize on his position and sailed away with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in tow, to snatch his second victory of the season. Today’s results clearly indicate that Red Bull and McLaren are the dominant force in the sport and have few peers right now. Ferrari, like Mercedes, had a woeful performance despite looking promising prior to the safety car. It was good to see some of the mid-pack contenders do so well, such as Williams' Rubins Barrichello in 4th, but for Mercedes fans there are questions and frustrations about the team’s current performance.
It’s a frustration reflected by team bosses too, with Ross Brawn angry about the penalty Schumacher received during the safety car period. “Michael was waved through and that gave us a golden opportunity to make his pit stop as our predictions were that the option tire would hold up for the remainder of the race. However, when Michael came to exit the pits, the red light was showing which cost him a significant amount of time. In our view, the regulations are clear that the exit light should not go red until the line of cars has formed behind the safety car, and we would like the FIA to look into this.”
“Michael's race was ruined even though he posted quick lap times throughout the afternoon.” said Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug. “Despite three pit stops and a long wait at the pit exit, he finished 6.5 seconds outside of the points. Nico had to look after his brakes throughout and was therefore handicapped. It's been a weekend to forget for our team but we will be stronger soon."
While these are legitimate points, the trouble too is that they are “what-if’s” in a situation which is already not within your control. It’s a little bit like the controversial England goal disallowed against Germany. It was an appalling decision, but it wasn’t going to change the result in the grand scheme of things.
Today's results do prove the difficulty of getting the current F.1 cars set-up to work well. In the days of old great drivers could do a lot with a car that was perhaps down on power, or not quite up to scratch with others. But the finicky set-ups and the preciseness of the aerodynamic and mechanical functions of the modern F.1 cars leave little room for error. Many drivers will insist that you can be down hundreds of a second and not even know why.
The combination of factors frustrating Mercedes GP Petronas will need to be ironed out sharply before the British Grand Prix which kicks off on the 9th of July. The new and improved track has already received plenty of attention and with the Championship so close and it a home race for Button, Hamilton and numerous UK based teams, there will be a real buzz of excitement in the UK for that weekend.
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