Formula One is a sport of many challenges. The challenge today will be to talk about last weekend without using the words “cold”, “wet” or any other similar adjectives relative to freezing temperatures.
“Is it really July?” was probably the most used sentence of the weekend, while team members decided to use every piece and layer of team kit available to them.
Two weeks after what could back then only be described as a “challenging weather-oriented” race weekend in Silverstone, our weekend at the Nürburgring certainly presented its own challenges. Although it’s remarkable to think that, in spite of the rain that did fall across the weekend, every single Formula One session during the weekend was dry…!
The lack of dry track time to evaluate our new exhaust system (including a revised bodywork and floor) at Silverstone meant that the team would use this weekend to properly understand the new package.
By Friday night, the team had a better picture of how effective the system was and Ross declared on Saturday that we made good progress over the weekend in understanding how to use our new aerodynamic package, after having completed over 650km – more than two race distances! – of trouble-free practice sessions on Friday.
But as always, Fridays don’t make winners and our weekend, like everyone else’s, really started when Q1’s green lights flashed at the end of the pit lane…
After another good start, which saw him overtaking Massa in turn one, Nico had to fight quite hard against the Ferrari driver to protect his fifth place. He managed to resist for eleven laps, making use of various defensive tactics, like using all his KERS in the DRS activation zone where he knew Massa was going to get closer. But on lap 11 Massa found the opening and Nico was back to sixth place. He then pitted on lap 14 for another set of option tyres and emerged in fourteenth place.
After his pitstop, Nico’s pace was consistent and his lap times, constantly in the 1.38.00 territory, which combined with other driver’s pit stops meant that he was back to P6 by lap 25.
After two more pit stops on lap 36 and 53 (the final to switch to the prime compound), Nico completed yet another mistake-free race and finished in seventh place, probably one place below the actual true pace of the car this weekend…
It is getting pretty hard to describe Michael’s starts this season without repeating ourselves race after race… once again Michael gained position at the start – “only” one place by the end of lap one! – and was running in eighth position by the end of the second lap. From there, Michael’s lap times stayed in the 1.39.00 region until his first stop on lap 15. He re-emerged in 12th position and fought his way back to 10th before both he and Nico pulled a spectacular double overtaking move on Petrov’s Lotus Renault car on lap 21!
Sadly, Michael spun as he braked on a damp patch on the way into turn 10 on lap 23. This cost him 15 seconds and two positions, but pit stops for Petrov and Alguersuari meant that he was back to ninth by the end of the same lap.
Michael’s times averaged in the low 1.37.00 during the rest of his stint. He pitted again on lap 37 and 56, overtaking Alguersuari at the end of the straight line in a bold move and retained eighth place after his final stop. It was, though, a case of what might have been, had it not been for that damp patch at turn 10…
We learn valuable information and lessons from each race that we travel to. At the Nürburgring, the key factor was that our upgrades are working, but also a good reminder that every team is working really hard.
At the moment the team still has the fourth fastest car on the grid, - confirmed by Michael’s and Nico’s fastest laps during the race, respectively sixth and seventh - and we managed to increase our gap to Lotus Renault in the Constructors’ standings, a gap of now 12 points.
Up at the front, it is also interesting to note that all of the teams have to look as much ahead as in the mirrors, due to the impressive rate of development showed by most of the teams this year, including the “midfield teams”.
This was demonstrated by Sutil’s sixth place for Force India, even though his two stop-strategy played a part in this result, and everyone has to keep pushing to maintain positions as much as improving.
At MERCEDES GP PETRONAS, although we are not yet fighting at the front where we want to be, the gap is closing: in percentage terms, the deficits in qualifying and fastest race laps have been halved compared to the first race of the year. We now need to keep on consolidating that step forward, and chipping away at the gap to the top three teams.
Of course, perfect race weekends don’t occur that often and at the Nürburgring, the team didn’t nail the perfect race set-up for either driver. But like everything in Formula One, upgrades come with a learning curve.
Another issue that somewhat compromised the drivers’ pace came from the necessity of saving fuel quite early in the race. This came from the prediction that the race was going to be affected by massive showers – hence getting slower – but those showers never came… Strategy calculations are all about risk management, and the potential upside justified the risk involved. But, as always, the margins are incredibly fine.
Once more, points are secured in the pits as much as they are on track. For the third time this year, our guys delivered the quickest pit stop of the race - Michael’s final one. That’s five of ten races so far in which the pit crew have been among the three quickest over the weekend - great work boys!
By now, of course, the mechanics are all in Hungary and preparing for the second of the two back-to-back events. The simple aim will be to make the most of our upgrades at the Hungaroring, and to take some positive momentum into the well-earned summer shutdown…