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F1 Ð NICOÕS NUMBER ONE

  Good-bye Silver Slings, the Arrows are back. After 111 Grand Prix starts Nico Rosberg has given a works Mercedes team their first victory since the great Juan Manuel Fangio won at Monza in 1955. After two tough years since their return some were doubting that this latest iteration of the Silver Arrows would ever match their illustrious predecessors with victory at the sports highest level. While they still have some work to do before they can be considered true championship contenders, it’s good for both the team, and Nico, and the sport for that matter, that they now have that monkey of their first win, well and truly off their backs. Even better that this win was no fluke or fortune of circumstance, as was King Fernando’s superb win in Malaysia, as Nico dominated the whole weekend and justly deserved this fine win.

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  OK I know that the circuit favoured the handling characteristics of the Merc in a way that the first two races didn’t, but that doesn’t detract from either Rosberg’s, nor the teams, performance. The nature of the Shanghai track, punishing the front end (especially the front left) much more than the rear, meant that the rapid rear tyre degradation that blighted the silver cars at Albert Park and Sepang was not an issue. At this track, possibly more than at any other this year, being easy on the front tyres and harder on the rears meant that the Mercedes was better balanced and wore it’s tyres more evenly than their rivals. This enabled Rosberg to stop just twice for new rubber, while most of the others ran four stints.

    Starting from pole Rosberg dominated the first half of the race but as his second stint dragged on it looked for a brief minute that the strategy might not work after all. Button on his fresher tyres was closing rapidly and after Nico’s final stop on lap 35 it appeared that Jenson may have been able to complete his final stop and emerge just ahead of the Mercedes. On lap 39 the McLaren came in and a dodgy left rear wheel nut put the result beyond question. I recall, back in the Eighties, when we in Oz finally got TV coverage of F1 a sub ten second pit stop was considered excellent. Now it’s a killer if it’s over three to four seconds and Jenson’s stop of nine and a half seconds dropped him back into the queue that had formed behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus who was running second, also on a two stop plan.

    At this point their was a fantastic scrap going on behind the Lotus with thirteen cars separated by just twenty odd seconds and battles raging for each place between cars on differing tyre strategies. Apart from Rosberg, the leading two stoppers were Raikkonen and Vettel, while Button, the Hoon and Webber were all three stopping. Apart from Rosberg, three stops was the correct strategy. With ten laps to go Kimi’s tyres “fell off the cliff” while Seb’s went south about four laps later. Raikkonen crashed all the way down to 14th at the flag, dropping some 30 seconds in those final nine laps while Vettel got jumped by both McLarens and Webber all within the last five laps.

   Romain Grosjean was the next best two stopper with a strong run into sixth place and his first world championship points while both Williams finished in the points for the first time since God knows when. King Fernando’s ninth was probably a fair reflection of where Ferrari stands at the moment while Kobayashi’s tenth place was a major disappointment after the team’s qualifying pace and Malaysian result. 

  Oddly enough, if you follow the timeline of Mercedes Grand Prix back to it’s earliest beginnings it has won world championships under three guises and has been a works squad for three separate manufacturers. It’s first life, starting in F1 in 1968 (no, I’m not including it’s Formula 2 outings in F1 races here) was as Matra International under the stewardship of Ken Tyrrell and clocked up it’s first title with Jackie Stewart in 1969 as a Matra-Cosworth. When Matra insisted that the team used it’s own V12 engine for the following year Ken took his team in another direction and fielded Marchs for most of the 1970 season before building his own Cosworth powered racer late in the year. Two more titles followed as Tyrrells in 1971 and 1973 for Stewart but once Jackie retired the team gradually slipped down the ladder. They continued to win races up to 1976 but from then, apart from single wins in 1978 (Monaco), 1982 (Las Vegas) and 1983 (Detroit) Kens squad slowly dropped back to the tail of the field.

 

 

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    At the end of 1997 Ken sold the team to British American Racing and from 1999 the cars were known as BARs. In 2006 the team had it’s second stint as a works squad when Honda bought out British American Racing but the continual failure to produce a competitive, let alone winning, car saw Honda pull the plug late in 2008. Ross Brawn, who was by this time the team manager put his own name to the team for a year and stunned the GP world with championship success for Jenson Button in the Mercedes powered Brawn BGP001. It was on the back of this triumph that Mercedes Benz decided to purchase the team that had been works entries for Matra and Honda, and had won titles as Matra, Tyrrell and Brawn.

    Can the team taste championship success as Mercedes? Time alone will tell, but unless they get a handle on the rear tyre eating characteristics of the W03 quickly it probably will not be this year. The car suited the nature of the Shanghai track and Nico and the team took full advantage to score a wonderful win, but don’t expect a repeat performance in Bahrain this weekend.

 Sam Snape

 18/04/2012

 For full results go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&dir=ASC&order=name&limit=5&limitstart=5