The F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne marked what Norbert Haug has described as Mercedes Grand Prix's 'toughest weekend' since taking over the former title-winning Brawn GP outfit last year, with a double DNF as Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were forced out within minutes of each other.
Having lined up respectively seventh (Rosberg) and eleventh (Schumacher) during qualifying at Albert Park – that in itself some way short of expectations inside the team – the latter's hopes took an immediate dive on the race's opening lap today, following a tag from the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari in a characteristically busy Turn Three, necessitating an early pit-stop to replace a punctured right-rear tyre and sending the German legend plummeting down to the rear of the field.
With damage having been caused to the floor of his car, the 42-year-old elected to park up on safety grounds on lap 19, and then just three laps later, Rosberg – who had run inside the top eight from the 'off' – found himself harpooned by Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello, again in Mercedes' luckless Turn Three. With a loss of water pressure from the impact, the 25-year-old similarly found himself with little choice but to retire a mere three laps after his team-mate.
“That was a disappointing first weekend of the season,” acknowledged Rosberg. “It was a tough race until my retirement, with the cars behind me pushing hard. I saw Rubens in my mirror and he was quite far away, so I was surprised that he hit me. I immediately thought that was it, and I had to pull over to stop the car.
“It's very sad for the team, as they have worked so hard this weekend and throughout the winter. However, we focus on the positive and it will be interesting to see how we perform in Malaysia. Melbourne is a very unique track, and we will only know where we really are after the next couple of races.”
“The start of the season certainly has not worked out as we had hoped,” echoed 'Schumi', “and we will tick this race off now and concentrate on the next one in Malaysia. I am very sorry for our guys here and at the factory who have worked so hard and so well over the winter, but for some reason we could not bring their work into results this weekend.
“As for the race itself, I had quite a good start but was then hit in Turn Three, which punctured the right-rear tyre and resulted in damage to the floor. As the damage was quite substantial, we decided to stop the car for safety reasons. It was an even bigger shame that Nico was then knocked out of the race, as he could have scored some good points for the team. I still believe we have potential, as we saw during winter testing, and I am convinced we will fight back.”
Indeed, having ostensibly taken a giant leap forward at the final pre-season group test around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya earlier this month, the complete failure to score on the MGP W02's competitive debut was even more disheartening – but team principal Ross Brawn has vowed that the Brackley-based operation will come out fighting at Sepang in a fortnight's time.
“This has obviously been a very frustrating weekend for our team,” the Englishman conceded. “Michael's race was spoilt almost immediately with a collision, which eventually caused sufficient damage to force us to retire the car. Nico was running reasonably well, however an over-ambitious move from Rubens – which the stewards also agreed with – brought his race to an end. It's a disappointing end to a disappointing first weekend of the season, but we will demonstrate our strength as a team, put this race behind us, regroup and go forward from here.”
“This was the toughest weekend of our 20 races as Mercedes Grand Prix,” agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Haug. “From the first practice session, we had various technical problems which we did not experience during our pre-season testing preparations of more than 5,000 kilometres. Nico and Michael were handicapped in their ability to set the cars up in the best possible way, and our performance was not where it should be.
“In the race, Michael was hit after the start, with the impact damaging his car enough that we had to call him in on lap 19 for safety reasons. Another car drove into Nico shortly afterwards, which was the end of his race. We need to resolve our problems ahead of the next race, and everybody will work very hard to achieve that within the next ten days. Sorry for all the hard-working people in our team for not having a better start to the 2011 season – but we will improve soon.”