You have to feel a little bit sorry for Nico Rosberg. The son of Finnish Formula One world champion Keke Rosberg, has had a stunning start to the 2010 F1 season with the new incarnation of Brawn GP—the Mercedes Grand Prix team.
After four races, Rosberg was second on the points table and had finished in the top five in each of the races, including two podium finishes. More importantly, he was outscoring his teammate five to one in championship points. Not bad for a new driver in a new team—relatively speaking, at least—and you would think that this would be a great launching point for the European campaign.
But there’s a problem.
Rosberg has Michael Schumacher as a teammate and Schumacher doesn’t like playing second fiddle.
Mercedes GP team principal, Ross Brawn, has a long history with Michael Schumacher, beginning in the 1990s at Benetton. The Brawn-Schumacher combination delivered two world titles at Benetton, before the pair moved to Ferrari where they took five straight championships from 2000-2004.
They are the glamour couple of F1—a motorsport version of Brad and Angelina. Rosberg can’t compete with that, no matter how well he does.
Now, Schumacher is using that relationship to his advantage. He has taken a car that was working brilliantly for Rosberg and, with Brawn, rebuilt it in his own image. Between them, they have changed the chassis, the wheelbase, wings, weight distribution, and even the way the car looks.
It’s now a car that better suits Schumacher, but Rosberg seemed to struggle with the changes, being out-qualified and out-raced for the first time this season by his more illustrious teammate. The proper order of things has been re-established—at least from Schumacher’s perspective.
Of course, Rosberg should have known what he was getting into, or he would have if he hadn’t signed up before Schumacher. Schumacher has a long history of dominating his teammates, most notably the two at Ferrari, Eddie Ervine and Rubens Barrichello. The dominance there was backed up with team orders, as Barrichello found out to his chagrin after being forced to yield to Schumacher only metres from the finish of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix.
In Schumacher’s defence, he and Brawn rebuilt the Ferrari F1 team from the sport’s laughingstock to a formidable force and championship contender, including the 2000-2004 period where they were virtually untouchable.
None of this is Schumacher’s fault, or, for that matter, his problem. His job is to win races for Mercedes and if that means that he gets into Ross Brawn’s ear to make changes to the car to suit his driving style, then he’s simply doing what he’s paid to do. Schumacher’s skill, experience, and ability to translate that knowledge into information that can be used in the development of the car is invaluable.
Brawn has publicly stated, at the FIA press conference before the Spanish GP, that the car is now close to how it was intended to be and that the machine that they were racing in the first four races was an interim solution.
Apparently, it’s all a big coincidence that the changes all make the car better for Schumacher. Whether you believe that or not, it is clear that Schumacher was always going to assert his seniority at some point.
Rosberg needs to treat this as a learning experience, adapt, and come out fighting. The best way to get respect from Brawn and the team is to continue to perform well and beat Schumacher on the track. He certainly seems to have the talent to do just that and, if he’s successful, the team will take the pragmatic approach and promote him.
In the interim, he could do worse than to learn from the master—both on the track and off it. He’ll still be around long after Schumacher retires—again.