Formula One 2012 half-term report: Mercedes

Okay, in less than one week F1 racing kicks of again, and so our half term reports move in to the Big Five teams. Or should that be ‘Big-Four-plus-One’? Or ‘Big-Three-and-Two-More-of-Hard-to-Determine-Relevance’?

Yes, today we are talking about Mercedes (it’s Lotus tomorrow).

Yes, that’s Mercedes, inventor of the motorcar, engineering and creative powerhouse responsible or part-responsible for its every subsequent re-invention. Former Leviathans of Grand Prix racing too.

Yet now? Well, a bit underwhelming to be honest. This is, don’t forget, year three in the come-back programme that was kick started with the acquisition for no small sum of all of Ross Brawn and Nick Fry’s team. A team they’d bought off Honda just a year before and taken to that year’s World Championship with a car Jenson Button just could not get enough of.

JB jumped, Mercedes money and Schumacher and Rosberg arrived (not necessarily in that order) and despite the only real cultural change being the new grey team outfits, Mercedes F1 arrived looking like a well-funded debutante. That was understandable. As the Sunday Afternoon Club’s favourite F1 teddy bear Ross Brawn likes to point out, the first Mercedes year (2010) was effectively the first post-Honda year; there hadn’t really been the money in 2009 to win the championship, design a new car and do some hiring.

But that was then and this is now and to us, it seems like Brawn and his gang and Michael and Nico have a car they just don’t understand.

It is compelling. We reckon that nobody until now, until Lotus, has attempted to copy the F1-W03’s astonishing Double-DRS system that uses bits of hosepipe that run all the way from the back of the car to the front and blow stalling air across the nose wing, stalling that too. Effectively it means that when the DRS is open, it’s not the just the rear wing that’s creating less drag, but the front too.

Nice work. The kind of fantastic little touch you’d want on a car that was otherwise perfect. Because although you can use it as much as you want in qualifying, its use in races in minimal: we assume you design a car like this to qualify on the front row and not spend its time in the DRS Zone in the pack.

It hasn’t happened that way. The F1-W03 has proven to be a complete diva when it comes to performing as requested with its tyres; track temp, ambient temp, soak temp, fuel load, Double-DRS-load… for every factor the team can predict it seems there is another it can’t and that totally scrambles the data for the former. The only strategy the team has it seems is to hope the Double DRS will boost a decent qualifying performance and start the race and see.

Oh, and hope the car doesn’t break down.

Yeah, breakdowns. Michael Schumacher in particular has been parking his car — his Mercedes, for goodness sake — more often than anyone else this year. It’s a great shame because he is just starting to show glimpses (only glimpses mind you, and usually followed by a mistake of face-palm-worthy embarrassment) of ‘old Michael’. By which we mean the young Michael.

The podium in Valencia was won with some broad shouldered driving, the ‘pole’ in Monaco with good old fashioned big balls. But the startline shenanigans in Hungary and that rear-ending with Senna? LKess good. Michael’s making noises about staying on. We love him, we jumped for joy that Monaco Saturday, but we hope he doesn’t. Being ‘as fast as Nico Rosberg, possibly’ is not how we want to remember you.

Nico of course won Mercedes’, new Mercedes’, only race this year and so far in China. And pretty dominant it was too. We can only assume the complex matrix of requirements for the F1-W03 to do what it was designed to do was duly filled in that day. Mercedes doesn’t look like a dominant team in F1. It should by now. I’m afraid it’s a C from us so far.

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