Progress or favouritism at Mercedes? (Spanish Grand Prix team-by-team)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Schumacher beat Rosberg for the first time this year
Schumacher beat Rosberg for the first time this year

With a longer-wheelbase car and a radical new airbox this weekend Mercedes reckoned they made progress at the Spanish Grand Prix.

But a look at the data suggests they might have done nothing more than transfer the weight of their problems from Michael Schumacher’s side of the garage to Nico Rosberg’s.

Here’s how their drivers fastest laps at each race weekend compared:

Mercedes' gap to the leaders
Mercedes' gap to the leaders (click to enlarge)

This shows the fastest time of each Mercedes driver at each race weekend as a percentage of the fastest time set that weekend.

Clearly, Mercedes were no closer to the pace at Barcelona than they had been in the first four races. Red Bull’s step forward in performance is partly the cause of that – but Mercedes’ pace compared to their other rivals seemed little better.

But of potentially greater concern is the sudden swing in competitiveness between their two drivers – leaving them open to accusations that the W01 is being developed to suit Schumacher instead of Rosberg.

Schumacher is known to favour a ‘pointy’, oversteer-biased car – one which his team mates have often found hard to drive. Has extending the W01’s wheelbase produced that characteristic?

Here’s how they compared in the Spanish Grand Prix:

Michael Schumacher Nico Rosberg
Qualifying position 6 8
Qualifying time comparison (Q3) 1’21.294 (-0.114) 1’21.408
Race position 4 13
Average race lap 1’27.974 (-1.273) 1’29.247
Laps 66/66 65/66
Pit stops 1 2
Spanish Grand Prix lap times - Mercedes
Spanish Grand Prix lap times - Mercedes (click to enlarge)

Michael Schumacher

His best weekend of the year so far, faster than his team mate in every session having struggled to do so before now.

From sixth on the grid he held position then took fifth off Jenson Button through the pit stops.

Defended his position to the flag but finishes 62 seconds behind winner Mark Webber. That’s 22s further behind than Rosberg was at Bahrain, so you have to wonder whether Mercedes really have made progress here.

Compare Michael Schumacher’s form against his team mate in 2010

Nico Rosberg

Arrived at Barcelona second in the drivers’ championship and left it having failed to score and fallen to fifth.

Qualified behind Schumacher for the first time and was pushed onto the grass at the start by Robert Kubica. He lost more places when a brake caught fire during his first pit stop, and he had to make a second visit to the pits later in the race.

There may be other reasons for their difference in performance.

Perhaps misfortune exaggerated Rosberg’s problems in Barcelona the way it did Schumacher’s in Shanghai. The gap between their race lap times indicates otherwise, but, in public at least, Rosberg said the new car was an improvement:

It’s been a difficult weekend for me and we need to look into the reasons for this and understand why. The changes that we have made with the car are obviously good and we have made a step forward but I haven’t really been able to use the improvements so far.

Considering that I have found the car difficult to drive and haven’t had the best of set-ups, our performance today was acceptable but it’s not where I wanted to be fighting this weekend.
Nico Rosberg

Schumacher reverted to an earlier chassis this weekend – perhaps his poor performance up to this point was down to an unidentified problem with his previous chassis?

Whatever the explanation, the concern for Mercedes is at the moment it seems they can get one of their drivers close to their potential but not both on the same weekend.

Compare Nico Rosberg’s form against his team mate in 2010

2010 Spanish Grand Prix

Browse all 2010 Spanish Grand Prix articles

84 comments on “Progress or favouritism at Mercedes? (Spanish Grand Prix team-by-team)”

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  1. The fact that Mercedes were not any further off the pace suggests that their modifications have improved the car somewhat.

    All the other teams brought upgrades, so if Mercedes weren’t progressing too they would have been even further behind.

    Nonetheless, the bottom line is that they aren’t looking like title contenders this year.

  2. Electrolite
    9th May 2010, 22:36

    I think progression. Rosberg, although probably still adapting to the changes, was nonetheless unlucky today. Time will tell!

  3. Newnhamlea1
    9th May 2010, 22:48

    I do not believe there is any bias i simply think that schumi is more technicaly astute than nico and as a result of that his feedback is more usefull when it comes to car design meaning the devlopment goes his way as opposed to nicos.

    1. I agree. If you look at quotes from Nico before the changes he stated that he also preferred a neutral to oversteering car over an understeering car. That’s what he has now and he’s simply had more trouble adapting to the car quickly than Michael has. It could also be that while he “prefers” oversteer, a car with understeer is less of a problem for him than it is for Michael. I think there are simply too many variables to accurately judge based on one race. At the end of the season we’ll see how they manage as a team, and how the two drivers stack up against each other.

      If Schumacher can continue to be in the front pack the rest of the season it will certainly make the races more interesting, and I think the top drivers all relish the chance to really race against him properly, which they’ll get to if the Mercedes is more evenly matched to their Red Bulls, Ferraris, and McLarens.

      1. I think arguing that Schumacher is more talented in pushing/directing the design of the car, is somewhat like stabbing your own argument in the back, The team should design a car for both drivers.

        Having said that, I haven’t seen Rosberg any more upsaet than he should be after a bad weekend, so I suspect that it is too early to call at the moment.

        In the end, the only way to tell is if Rosberg were to drive the old can and Schumacher the new car. But that would be incredibly bad from a resource management perspective.

        I suspect as Johnothan said, they weren’t particularly slower from Red Bull, and we all know Adrian Newey has a vast ability to improve the car. this tells me that it is an improvement, just one that doesn’t suit Nico.

        Schumacher was visibly not in control of his car in china and to a lesser extent the other initial races, so it makes sense for a team to try and develop a car that suits him. and to suggest this is unfair to Nico is rather unfair to Schumacher. The team now has a responsibility to try and help Nico get to grips with the new car, or rather revise the design so he can push with it as well.
        Only after this doesn’t happen will I accept people suggesting it is unfair for Nico.

        Actually if anything I think Ferrari deserves some criticism, considering his pace last year Massa should be a lot closer to Alonso, yet I rather suspect that Ferrari isn’t about to assist Massa at Alonso’s expense.

      2. In all the reports that I have seen on their driving styles, including before either joined Mercedes, they both prefer a similar setup and handling car. The big difference is that whereas Michael hates an understeering car and struggles, Nico seems to be able to live with it. So Nico was OK with the old car but Michael wasn’t. Now that they both have a car that they think is OK Michaels talent and experience is starting to show. That’s my take on it but only time will tell. But Nico seemed far more upset at being behind Michael than Michael was when it was the other way round which does not bode well.

        1. a longer wheel base car ought to be more stable over all. it shouldn’t induce oversteer any more than a shorter wheel base car should induce understeer. however, if the car naturally understeers (which was more of a ballast issue, as far as i understood it) then a short wheelbase car would be tough for someone who favours neutral-oversteer.

          it all sounds a bit silly, pontificating like this. all the drivers want is a neutral car. anything else is slower than it could be.

  4. With the best will in the world to Rosberg, if I had the only 7 time world champ driving for me, I would definitely make sure he had a car he could work with. Having said that, yes, the changes have favoured Schumi. But then, in China and Spain today, Michael race craft shone, even if the car did not. Yes, Rosberg was fast with the shorter wheel base, but…

    …oh hell’s, yes, the team just moved the goal posts, but Rosberg knew this was gonna be tough. Just hope Michael justifies this with some decent results now. Rosberg wasn’t winning races, but WAS running high.

    1. You would change the car so your 7 time WDC with only 10 points scored would perform better, even if your other driver (with 50 points and 2nd in the standings) has driven it without problems? Wow! Very clever…

      1. theRoswellite
        10th May 2010, 23:38

        Nicely stated….MEmo

        I think it must be of paramount importance to the success of the team that they work to develop a car that, more than favoring one of their drivers over the other, is simply faster, and of course, has the potential for additional development.

        To create the car’s design philosophy around the preferences of your second driver in the team, who is seemingly out of the running for the championship…when your first driver is placed highly, would seem to be very unprofessional if not irrational, especially considering the other attending issues of age and the lack of recent involvement in F1.

        It seems much more likely to me that the team is addressing shortcomings of the car, and if Michael Schumacher is having serious problems then one can imagine that the previous version was not all that it could be.

        I doubt that Mercedes Benz is ready to, as it were, hang their silver star on the preferences of any one driver, even a seven time World Champion.

        Hopefully, this race is a one-off performance lapse for Nico, God knows everyone else seems to be having reliability issues.

      2. Of course, the 7 WDC would be able to bring points when pressure becomes an issue, during the last stages of the championship, you don;t know if the kid who hasn’t won a race could do that. For god sake, don’t forget who is who. Or do you want your boss to turn the business around the new guy just because he has accomplished more than you (more experienced and with more than 15 years of experience) in the first few weeks of the year ?

    2. The shame here and not to be forgotten is Rosberg didn’t get all the same updates as Schumacher got. So with all updates MSC was finally faster then ROS but they didn’t have all the same updates. But MSC was not that much faster then ROS. Going to be interesting to see if Ros will get to keep this car in Monoaco where historically long wheel base suffers badly. So ROS might be better of in his current car and wait for the final upgrade for Turkey.

      1. What are you talking about? They both got EXACTLY the same updates, the only difference is that Michael Moved to an older chassis (test chassis number 1) as he felt his race chassis was compromised by damage at earlier races.

        1. not referring to what he was talking about, but Rosberg was using an old engine while Schumacher had a new one. Could make a difference of a tenth or so

  5. F1Outsider
    9th May 2010, 22:49

    It’s blatant favouritism. Also wasted resources to an extent, in my opinion. They sacrificed a driver with a good standing in the championship in order to adapt the car to the other driver. This at a time when they should’ve been pushing the development of the car rather than adjusting the chassis to driver #2’s tastes (#2 as per standings in the championship).

    I guess the thinking within the team is that perhaps Schumacher doesn’t have much time left to be really competitive and that the sooner they give him a car he likes, the more likely he’ll be to deliver race wins and, perhaps, championships. While Nico is young and has time to sit around and wait for the team to give him a competitive car at a later time. I bet Barrichello has something to say about that.

    1. Rosberg was behind the changes as much as Schumacher. He stated more than once in the beginning of the season that he does not like understeering cars. I think he probably just had a particularly bad weekend much like Schumacher did in China. I could be wrong, but I think they’ll both be fighting for points with the other “top 4” teams within a few races once they’ve fleshed out minor issues with the new car.

      1. I actually feel this weekend was not and will not be representative of Rosberg’s past and future performances this year. I’m a big fan of Nico Rosberg – he’s very fast, consistent and resourceful driver – however, lets face it, Nico has had his slip-ups last year. I remember Monza as one obvious example – where he was outqualified and outraced by nakajima for the first time in that season. It all began during the free practices where he couldn’t find the right setup. Same with this weekend – he just failed to tune his car and deliver in it. I can expect weekends like that from him a couple of times, but I generally expect him to return to his form over the next few races.

        Regarding Schumi – yeah he tuned the car to his liking and he doesn’t care if Rosberg can’t drive it. I don’t see this as a blatant favouritism on Mercedes’s side though – Schumi made it seem that the car would benefit both drivers. It’s just an old Schumi tactic – and his old friend Ross covering him at it.

        1. I like your comment, you do suggest Schumacher has forced the car to be developed to his liking as opposed to Rosbergs giving him somewhat of an advantage. but unlike Achilles below you have done it in a matter of fact way that doesn’t suggest there is some sort of conspiracy theory going on. ^_^

      2. Rosberg is a team player, and will say what the team want him to say, we rarely get to know the truth of what the individuals think, time will be the defining factor…..

    2. F1Outsider makes the best point here. Mercedes have undermined their best driver so far this season, significantly ahead on points, to allow the other to catch up. Rosberg is obviously not going to publicly state any kind of discontent with the team’s about face to protect Schumacher’s reputation and the branding this gives them (if he’s successful on track) but that’s basically what it’s about. He struck me as someone driving with his confidence undermined. Hopefully he can recover – but how would any of us feel if we’re winning a competition fairly only for our team to redesign the equipment to put us at a disadvantage relative to another team member? I suddenly recall why I always felt Schumacher was a corrosive influence on F1…

  6. ThePink Bengal
    9th May 2010, 22:52

    Schumi can’t seem to win in this situation (comin out of retirement). If he doesn’t win from the first race he gets slammed. If his team mate does better than him he gets slammed and if he improves his performance he gets slammed for alleged favouritism.

    I’m not saying Mercedes hasn’t developed the car more to his liking. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. I think it’s still too early to tell and frankly, there is very little hard evidence to go on.

    I’m not a particularly big fan of Schumacher’s either.

    1. “Schumi can’t seem to win in this situation (comin out of retirement). If he doesn’t win from the first race he gets slammed. If his team mate does better than him he gets slammed and if he improves his performance he gets slammed for alleged favoritism.”

      Ha! you hit the nail on the head.

  7. Can someone clarify this for me. Whats stopping Rosberg using the shorter wheelbase version and Schumacher using the longer version?

    1. Rosberg was using the long wheelbase, the modifications were made to both car. It’s just that Schumacher also used a different chassis to the one he had before.

      This wasn’t like the situation at Virgin, where they introduced an entirely new version of their car but only had one chassis ready and gave it to Glock.

      1. I think Rosberg should switch to the shorter wheelbase car for Monaco. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Mercedes doing that as McLaren did it a year ago I believe – and Monaco is known to favour a shorter wheelbase car. Might be worth a shot!

        1. Hamilton did try out a shorter wheelbase car for Valencia, which was actually supposed to be for Monza and Spa, where the change in weight distribution was supposed to be more advantageous.

          In the end, I don’t think it was used for the other races. Hamilton said he preferred the longer wheelbase anyway.

    2. Money and time to develop both type of cars I guess

  8. Yeah, I’m wondering the same, Hamish. Is it because the chassis have to be identical, or something?

    And… from a technical point of view, how exactly do you change the wheelbase? Do you play with the suspension only, or do you have to modify the chassis? Any idea of how much was the increase?

    1. As I understand the situation, with the new chassis homologation rules, the only scope for adjusting the wheelbase lies with the suspension layout itself, as illustrated on

      That should make it possible for Mercedes to provide a diametrically opposed suspension layout to shorten the wheelbase for Rosberg, if I am not mistaken.

      1. The only reason they wouldn’t want to let either driver use a different car, is that then they would have to develop them separately, one cars upgrades might be very bad for the other.

        This is very bad considering they are chasing teams with higher budgets than them.

  9. I dont think there’s any favouritism going on, Nico said after quali I believe that he made a crazy set up move on Friday, and that put him behind for the rest of the weekend.
    His race perfomance isn’t worth looking at really, he probably did some damage at the start then was stuck behind slower cars for the whole race.

    1. I tend to agree.

      It would be crazy for a team to deliberately favour Schumacher, when prior to Spain Rosberg was 2nd on the championship standings.

      If however for some reason there is favouritism going on it’s probably too early to know, it’s entirely possible that Rosberg just had a bad weekend.

  10. At the moment it’s easy to say that the car is aimed towards Schumi’s driving style, but it’s hard to tell until we see a clean race from both drivers. Rosberg was unlucky this weekend. His start was poor – he got pushed onto the crash which couldn’t have helped things – and then his pit stop was a nightmare. Looking at the lap chart, Schumi and Rosberg were exchanging lap times towards the end, so their pace was evenly matched at some points.

    I just think Rosberg had a poor weekend, and Schumi’s qualifying performance meant he had the chance to shine.

    1. *For some reason I said he got pushed onto the crash… I mean grass of course, lol.

    2. Schumi and Rosberg were exchanging lap times towards the end, despite Rosberg having new, soft tyres. The average difference was 1.273s.

  11. Mercedes is too big of a company just to back 1 driver. Rosberg’s run over schumi had to take a hit once in a while, anyway if it was schumi being favoured over Rosberg you would of thought a young guy like him would of exploded after the result saying he was being stitched up. He didn’t so whats the fuss all about? Nico still sounds up beat with his chances against schumi and the other drivers.

    And anyway would you think the FIA/Bernie would allow teams going back to the 98-04 years to ruin the spectacle having 1 driver teams and 2 horse race every season?

    I think most teams have grown out of that phase since most f1 fans sneer at 1 driver focus in a team. Lewis broke that chain with Alonso years ago and Jenson is braking it again with Lewis this year same applies to Nico on Schumi and Webber on Vettel, so happy days.

    time to stop typing it’s late and I’m watching dr who.

  12. with shorter or longer wheelbase mercedes is well of the pace. 1 second per lap in race conditions. and redbull probably did not needed to push fully. especially their straight line speed is not fast enough. it was striking to see how much faster button’s car was on the start-finish straight compared to michael’s. it was nothing to do with the wheelbases. the last corner was flat-out either way. they loose probably too much speed with the chassis to generate enough downforce, too much drag. monaco could be a different story perhaps where mechanical grip crucial. brawn gp was very good last year on mechanical-grip tracks. this is their only chance probably to make good results with this car. otherwise it looks pretty hopeless at this point. with rosberg or with schumacher, the car is just not fast enough, the gap is too much to the front.

  13. i would of thought a longer car produces more understeer then oversteer???

    1. yep, first time i’ve heard of it working backwards

      1. Harry Bits
        10th May 2010, 5:06

        The longer wheel base allows them to take load off the front tyres by moving center of gravity back, which has a tendency to reduce understeer, rather than induce/increase oversteer.

        But like everything else there’s give and take, as you can also quite easily reduce grip if moved too far back, an then induce understeer all over again.

        1. What is really going on here is an intertwined relationship between how much lateral load a tire can handle due to download, and how much it has to handle due to mass balance (CG). It depends on the specific vehicle whether or not moving mas fore or aft induces understeer or oversteer, and like the above post says, can even change in different ranges on the same vehicle.

          Having said that, most modern high downforce cars, due to download being dominated by downforce, tend towards oversteer by moving mass aft. This is because, relatively, in a high downforce car, moving mass aft adds much less download than lateral load responsibility.

        2. according to brawn himself, the reasons were simply aero related and nothing mechanical at all, noting that it would usually cause more understeer to lengthen a car’s wheelbase. the greater distance created in changing the chassis/suspension has simply allowed the air from the front wing to be used more effectively.

          1. That makes little sense. All that moved were the front wheels by changing the A arm angles. The front wing did not move. The wheel position relative to the front wing changed, but the effect of that, over the whole speed range, is typically second order.

            Do you have a reference for this Brawn quote?

    2. I think the gain in the weight distribution is outweighing the natural tendency to understeer more. Or there’s something about having a longer wheelbase that means the car can be set up to counter understeer more.

      In short, I’m just guessing!

    3. Not necessarily – but a short wheelbase car will be more responsive to steering input, a longer car more stable.

      The reason for Mercedes changing the wheelbase was to alter weight distribution towards the rear. The original specification put too much of the weight through the (smaller for 2010) front tyres, so it overworked them to the detriment of overall performance. Changing the wheelbase should push the weight further towards the rear meaning the car is gentler on its rubber.

      Schumacher likes a very pointy car with lots of front end grip – he wasn’t getting that from the previous spec-Mercedes. To get a suitable balance, I gather he was even going as far as to destabilise the rear of the car to compensate – and that’s no way to go fast.

      1. Isn’t it quite simply the fact that the bulk of the weight stays where it is, but the front tyres move forward, thus relatively there’s less load on the front and more on the back?

        1. Speaking in very general terms, yes. But anytime you move weight in an object, wheter by lengthing it, shortening it, or by simpy moving mass around – you have changed the CG. This is especially true in F1 cars whereas the slightest degree can have a big impact, whether its a positive or negative effect for that perticular car/driver combination.

          Don’t forget, as we stated above moving the CG doesnt just simply transfer weight it also stansfer ballance & downforce. It’s the combination of these factors [and a million tiny others] that help reduce the understeer of the car.

  14. Mark in Florida
    10th May 2010, 1:18

    I think the shift in handling to Michael`s liking is a smart move on Mercedes part.Nico seemed to have trouble keeping faster cars behind him and so would lose places toward the end of the race.Michael brilliantly held off Jenson to the point that he wore out his tires.One hill that Mercedes has to climb is the fact that they did not have the resources to work on a new car last year.They barely managed to win the championship.Their true potential will really show next year when they are able to develop a competitive car.Right now they are doing their best with what they have.Red Bull is only getting stronger as the season goes on and I don`t believe they are going to be caught up with completely by anyone.

  15. Prisoner Monkeys
    10th May 2010, 2:44

    I don’t think it’s really possible to judge them – especially the new upgrades – on one race. Actually, it’s pretty naive to do so, especially comparing Schumacher to Rosberg. Sometimes, you just have an off day. For all we know, the upgrade has pushed the W01 forward by leaps and bounds, but it’s been completely offset by the new bits Red Bull bolted on for Spain.

  16. I believe the longer wheelbase acts more like a lever to applying more downforce to the front tires under braking but does shift the normal weight balance to the rear of the car.

  17. Harry Plums
    10th May 2010, 4:57

    Did Mercedes have to crash test their car with the new air box design, as the thickness of the roll cage has obviously changed.

    1. The roll structure IS that pillar.

      The air intake is not a structural part, so they can change it.

      1. Yes, and my point is that the ‘roll structure’ seems to have changed. Or did it?

        And if it did, wouldnt that require a crash test?

  18. well, we have to think that the upgrades from this race was already on schedule even before china. so its ridiculous to think that they did that all updates in 3 weeks time, i doubt so. its a matter of case that all the drivers and engineers agree. even nico said the update will improve, its just that it doesnt quite suit him yet as far as he knows. the difference between these ms and nico is ms is pretty straight forward t what he wants whilst nico is just give me a better car and i will try my best.

  19. Are you sure Rosberg switched to the longer wheelbase car? In reports it’s only about Schmacher making the change.

  20. Ross Brawn in an interview with Manel Serras in El Pais said that the team has two challenges this season: that Michael returns to success, and that Nico wins some races.

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