May 31st, 2013 (F1plus/J. Parker).- Some things do make me chuckle when it comes to the Formula 1 media. Today was no exception, and I read something which really did tickle me. The mainstream media outlets do like to blow subjects right out of proportion, the test-gate scandal included and it makes for quite amusing reading when in essence subjects are nowhere near as dramatic as they are made out to be.
The latest one today happened to be about Michael Schumacher, and how miraculously after such a strong start to the season by Nico Rosberg, many people may have jumped to conclusions when it came to judging how successful the great man comeback was.
Now it is no secret that when Schumacher decided to call it a day last season, the mainstream media decided to jump on the bandwagon. They suggested the comeback would potentially tarnish a long standing legacy of success and dominance, with 3 seasons of being thoroughly outraced by a man not considered one of the best in the paddock.
Oh how perception changes so quickly. Post Monaco, after an incredibly dominant weekend and victory by Nico Rosberg, it appears his stock has suddenly shot up in the paddock, not to Mercedes surprise - but everyone else it seems. This includes many of the mainstream media outlets who are quickly rushing right now to publish comparative articles suggesting we underestimated Schumacher’s comeback career – especially in 2012 when he was finally starting to get back in the groove.
Now all through last season I remained adamant that people were judging the success of Schumacher’s second wind with a narrow minded perception. I had upteen discussions with people who disagreed, and was scheduled to write an article post Monaco to prove my point. It just so happens the mainstream media have beaten me to the subject trying to justify their rather “contradictive” views – on a man that was considered “past his prime” a “has been” as such just some 12 months ago.
Many of you that are regular readers of the GPM blog will know that Michael Schumacher is one of the drivers who I rate amongst the very best. Instead of looking at the core figures of his career, his “glory years”, I urge everyone to read about the periods when he wasn’t winning to see just what a whirlwind of talent this man was – his 1992 and 1993 seasons will forever be a favourite of mine.
But that does not mean I am biased in any way, as Schumacher is just one of many who I admire most in a sport which is the priority of my passion – not drivers in particular.
So whilst the mainstream media are doing a complete u-turn on Schumachers “troubled” second spell in Formula 1, let’s explore why I think he deserves more credit than he’s been given.
For all intents and purposes I am only going to explore the 2012 season. Unlike Raikkonen, who was not only 9 years younger when he returned to F1, but also had better tools available to him and continued to race in the years he was absent, Schumacher came back into F1 blind.
He had no experience of current regulations (new generation slick tyres and increased aero), cars were very, very different beasts and given his age it was always going to take 1-2 seasons to get his eye back into the game – which explains my reasoning behind it.
So what are the core figures then?
Qualifying over 20 races:
- Schumacher - 10
- Rosberg - 10
Schumacher in total over the course of 20 Qualifying sessions accumulated a 1.394s advantage over Rosberg, which averages at 0.0697 of a second per Qualifying session during the 2012 season.
Schumacher and Roberg at the 2012 Singapore GP
Now this takes into account two notable race weekends where Schumacher was unable to challenge Rosberg. In Bahrain he suffered a DRS failure in Qualifying, and in Spain he was forced to not run in Q3 due to strategic implications.
When it comes to race results, I think it is only fair we ignore retirements and focus on the Grand Prix’s when both drivers finished the race. The reason I say this is because both drivers suffered horrendous luck at times as the W03 was incredibly unreliable.
There were 10 times when both Schumacher and Rosberg finished a Grand Prix during 2012. Of those 10 times, there were 7 races when Schumacher finished in-front of his team-mate.
Then we come to the races when the car let both drivers down, and in regards to that issue Schumacher really did pull the short straw. In the first 7 seven races, Schumacher finished just twice. One was contributed by a mistake (in Cataluyna when he hit the back of Senna) whereas the rest were down to car failures (Gearbox failure in Australia, loose wheel in China, fuel pressure problem in Monaco and DRS failure once again in Canada).
Of course later on in the season Rosberg did suffer his own share of bad luck. In Japan, Korea and Abu Dhabi he was forced to retire from collision damage that technically was not his fault (caught up in other peoples incidents) – the most terrifying being when he climbed the back of Karthikeyan’s HRT during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at high speed.
So what about 2013 then?
Qualifying over 6 races:
- Hamilton – 3
- Rosberg -3
During the 6 Grand Prix Qualifying sessions we have had so far in 2013, Hamilton averaged to be 0.142 seconds faster than Rosberg. Obviously Hamilton is considered by many inside and outside of Formula 1, to be the fastest man over the course of 1 lap. So after 6 Qualifying sessions, to have beaten Hamilton in 3 and be only an average of 0.142 seconds behind is quite the achievement.
When it comes to the race on Sunday, Rosberg has been given his own dose, much like Schumacher last season, of bad luck that is for sure.
Although the core statistics show in the 6 races so far this season that Hamilton has finished ahead of Rosberg in 4 of them, the picture is slightly skewed. In Australia Rosberg suffered an electronic problem whilst running in 6th place – directly behind his team-mate, and in China he was forced to retire once again with a FRICS Suspension failure.
So in the 4 races so far this season that both drivers have finished the race, they are equal, beating each other twice. Crucially, Rosberg in the last 3 races has claimed 3 pole positions on the trot, and has also finished ahead of Hamilton twice – most recently in Monaco.
The momentum is certainly with Nico at the moment and Hamilton has already cottoned on to the fact he needs to start upping his game.
Hamilton has yet to suffer any reliability problems this season (to Rosbergs 2) so therefore his 15 point lead in the championship is quite understandable at this point in the year.
What exactly does this mean?
Well it appears that many fans have really been surprised by the increase in competitiveness of Rosberg – as if he has completely upped his game this season. But Mercedes have already stated to many mainstream sources that he has not changed at all. His methods speed and commitment has remained static since he joined Mercedes back in 2010.
Lewis Hamilton has already said numerous times before that he expected a tough challenge from Nico in 2013; however whether he was expecting it to be this convincing is another matter. Whilst many people will be calling this the dawning of success for the young German, I think personally this is the first time he has had a car which is comparable to that of his natural competitors.
So where does Schumacher fit into all of this then?
Well I think 2012 was possibly one of the most unlucky seasons I have seen a driver experience on a personal level. The facts state that when both drivers finished a Grand Prix, Schumacher finished ahead 7 times to Rosbergs 3 – retirements aside (of which Schumacher had more anyway).
Qualifying remained static at 10 each and therefore over the course of the season, it gives the impression that Schumacher was certainly more than a match for Rosberg when both drivers finished a Grand Prix on equal terms.
Rosberg has simply done a phenomenal job since Hamilton the Mercedes team (considered the fastest driver in F1 by many), proving to be the Briton’s equal almost all season long. As Rosbergs stock in Formula 1 rises every weekend, it surely puts Schumacher’s 2012 season into perspective – the stats simply do not lie. Unlucky? Definitely. Missed opportunity? Certainly – not bad for an old timer.
The final grey area remains over the car’s competitiveness. In 2012, during the early stages of the season the W03 was certainly very competitive. However this was directly the period when Schumacher experienced that run of horrendous mechanical reliability. As the season wore on, and the car’s development faded, the 7 times world champion definitely started to exercise some authority over Rosberg, who conversely struggled.
In 2013, the W04 is considered the most competitive car the Brackley/Mercedes team have made. It is considered the benchmark in terms of Qualifying performance over 1 lap, and only rear tyre wear issues hamper the drivers efforts during a Grand Prix. So when we take into account just how well both Hamilton and Rosberg are performing, I think it’s safe to assume (based on the stats from 2012) just how quick a 43 year old Schumacher, who was past his prime still was – the answer? Very.
One moot point remains. How is it possible that the mainstream media outlets have only just cottoned on to this fact? Flustering to get comparisons published. It definitely raises a few eyebrows and one can only suggest Schumacher can put his feet up in 2013 now knowing he had the measure of the man in 2012, who now has the measure of the supposed fastest man in Formula 1 – all at the ripe old age of 43.
If only we could turn back time and witness a "primed" Schumacher compete against arguably the strongest grid in F1 history alongside that of the mid 80's. Something unfortunately we will never get the chance to witness – but the stats suggest, he would be incredibly strong.