In one of the least surprising signings in Formula One, Nico Rosberg has secured a deal with Mercedes until at least the end of 2013. What is more surprising is that they have apparently also agreed to re-sign the ageing Michael Schumacher through to the end of 2013 also.
Rosberg has been a consistently solid performer in a car that is, at best, only the fourth-best car on the grid.
In 2010, he secured seventh place in the championship, being beaten only by the drivers from the big three teams of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.
Most importantly, he comprehensively outperformed his more illustrious teammate, securing almost twice as many championship points as Schumacher.
This year, the gap has closed significantly, but Rosberg is still leading Schumacher with two races remaining and he’s doing it in a car that many believe has been developed around Schumacher.
Schumacher’s return to F1, by comparison, has been less than spectacular despite the hype and expectation that accompanied it.
In 2010, he looked out of sorts. Younger drivers would push him off the track, he was slow and uncomfortable in the car. His frustrations boiled over when former teammate Rubens Barrichello attempted to pass him in Hungary and Schumacher went perilously close to running him into the pit wall.
In 2011, it has been better, although he is still a long way short of his best. We have, however, seen glimpses of the old Schumacher.
His performance at Monza—when he held Lewis Hamilton at bay for 20 laps—was reminiscent of the ruthless Schumacher that slammed the door on Damon Hill’s championship hopes in 1994 at Adelaide or his ill-fated attempt to take Jacques Villeneuve out of the race at Jerez in 1997.
While Schumacher has made improvements, he is still a shadow of the driver he once was.
It is difficult to see what possible benefit Mercedes are getting from keeping him around for an extra year on top of a contract that was probably already too long.
Clearly, Rosberg is the future of the team, but now would be the ideal time to secure one of the other emerging drivers in the field.
Schumacher, however, sees plenty of value in hanging around and has tried to justify it by claiming,
I have proved I can run in the races faster than my teammate Nico Rosberg; overall we are on the right track.
On which planet? Perhaps he means that he can manage it every now and then.
Mercedes boss Norbert Haug, perhaps campaigning for president of the Schumacher fan club, sees things like this,
Whoever wrote off Michael has been proved wrong. He is driving fantastic races; no one has made up more positions than him on the first lap.
Perhaps someone should advise Boss Haug that what counts is where you are after the 50 or 60 laps of the whole race. There is no prize for a good start.
Schumacher’s illustrious career has earned his a spot at the very top of the F1 tree, his comeback is unlikely to move him to a higher branch.
Time to quit while he’s not too far behind.
Schumacher has since denied these reports, saying "I need a little bit more time to see," he said. "It is sort of about myself and how we are heading and also some input to see if that is what I want or not."