Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 19, 2012
Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 4: Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team
Nico Rosberg (D); Michael Schumacher (D)
Points: 165; Best finish: 4th (Canada)
Mercedes, like Renault, came up with a car concept that was overtaken by events. In Mercedes' case it was a failure to anticipate the evolution and power of the developing exhaust technology.
"It became clear at the end of 2010 that there was perhaps more going on in the exhaust area than we'd understood," Brawn admits.
"The short wheelbase and other things we did were not as advantageous as we thought.
"We rather shot ourselves in the foot with the cooling system, which was quite different to the norm in terms of the two-tiered radiators. When we solved the teething problems they worked very well but hurt us in the development stakes early on.
"The two-tiered radiators were to keep the car short because obviously a single radiator is much longer. With the diffuser height changes from 2010 we thought a short car would be the way to go.
The team thought it wanted a short, flat area of floor because the less powerful single diffusers would otherwise cause the air to detach, but the exhaust technologies solved that problem straight away. They were therefore left with no advantages but compromises in terms of weight distribution and fuel height that impacted on many areas, including comparatively high rear tyre usage.
"We had some fairly high rear degradation initially and the higher centre of gravity with the shorter car for sure come into it. At tracks like Monaco and Singapore that was an area we weren't too strong in.
"But, when we were at tracks that are front tyre limited, China being one of them, the car performed very well. We got better in that respect - Singapore wasn't another Monaco for us - but rear tyre degradation is something we need to address in 2012."
The new DRS rear wing was always a strong feature of the Mercedes although there were some early season problems when the air seemed reluctant to re-attach once the flap came back down.
"For some curious reason it seemed to affect Michael more than Nico," Brawn explains. "Their crash helmets are slightly different shapes and the flow onto the rear wing was a little different. You could swap the wing over and the problem would stay with Michael."
Schumacher again struggled with qualifying relative to his team mate, a three to four tenths margin the average gap across the season.
Michael, however, generally put strong races together and invariably made up places at the start. Michael it was who achieved the team's best result, a fourth place in Canada. He finished the year on 76 points, just 13 adrift of Nico.
When you think of Schumacher's seven titles and 91 wins, it seemed strange to hear Brawn say that Schumacher's lengthy battle with Hamilton at Monza gave him confidence but in a business of such constant re-evaluation, perhaps it is not. It would be intriguing to see what both Rosberg and Schumacher would do with a front-running car.
"I think Nico is very, very good," Brawn says. "I'm delighted with his performance but where he sits in terms of the overall ladder, I don't know. A race win would make a huge difference and I'm very excited about what would develop if we can give it to him."
Brawn admits that the team had hoped to compete at the front in 2011 but ultimately could not. He thinks that if the Resource Restriction Agreement is being respected, the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren should be down to a level that he says Mercedes is still moving up to.
With Bob Bell already ensconced as technical director, last year's recruitment of experienced, respected technical figures such as Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis should also give the team increased strength in depth, an area in which it was lacking a year ago. It would be a surprise to see Mercedes finish 2012 without a podium.