At the British Grand Prix, Mercedes weren’t expecting to do well, and they didn’t. Schumacher put in a strong qualifying performance for third on the grid in the rain, but in the dry race there was nothing he could do to stay near the front, and the illustrious German finished seventh, which was a reasonable result considering that Mercedes did not expect the car to be suited to the Silverstone circuit.
Ahead of today’s German Grand Prix, Schumacher stated “We have the most difficult race behind us”, referring, of course, to the British Grand Prix. Unfortunately for Schumacher it proved not to be so. He again put in a good performance in qualifying to take fourth place, and inherited third when Mark Webber took a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. In the race, Schumacher was again unable to stay with the front-runners, and finished seventh, as had happened at Silverstone.
If Silverstone was expected to be the tough race of the season, and the W03 was supposed to be better suited to Hockenheim, then how is today’s result to be interpreted? It can only be that Mercedes have taken a step back.
After a poor start to the season, Ferrari have made massive strides forward, to the point that they now have possibly the quickest car, and definitely the quickest driver in Fernando Alonso. Red Bull have improved in recent races, and are on a similar level to Ferrari. McLaren struggled in Valencia and Great Britain, but bounced back in Germany with a significant upgrade package the obviously made a huge difference as Jenson Button finished second. Where is the development from Mercedes? They must be developing the car, otherwise they would be at the back of the field, but the improvements are not particularly evident on the race track.
With a four-week break coming up after next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix, it is possible that Mercedes are planning a significant upgrade for the first post-break race in Belgium. The W03 should in any case be quick at the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps track, and again at Monza for Italian Grand Prix. But the rest of the season is unlikely to be suited to the W03 as it is now, and so some action is required from the team.
Can Mercedes deliver a car capable of competing at the front? They did it in China. Perhaps they can do it again.