Mercedes Grand Prix have put all ambitions of winning races on-hold until 2012, Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn have revealed – as problems for Nico Rosberg during the opening day of practice for this weekend's Italian Grand Prix meant only one of the two 'Silver Arrows' featured up at the sharp end of the timesheets.
Ferrari star Felipe Massa had tipped Mercedes to shine around super-fast Monza – singling out the team's engine, KERS and DRS as particular strengths down the long straights – and McLaren-Mercedes ace Jenson Button had acknowledged that 'the Mercedes was very quick in a straight line at Spa', adding: “I'm hoping that was their Monza wing, because if not, they are going to be very, very fast here.”
Speaking to The Guardian, however, the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Brawn affirmed that the 'focus is firmly on 2012 now, and I think that would be the case for the majority of the teams' – whilst 'Schumi' concurred that 'I don't think we have a reason to talk about victories at the moment...we'll have to postpone this until next year', according to SPEED.com.
The multiple F1 World Champion was certainly fast enough, though, at Monza on Friday, winding up third-quickest behind only Lewis Hamilton and 2011 world champion-elect Sebastian Vettel around a circuit at which he has triumphed a record five times and where he is still hero-worshipped by the adoring tifosi from his days in scarlet.
“It's always a special feeling to be here at Monza,” the 41-year-old acknowledged. “It began yesterday when I did my lap of the circuit, saw the tifosi and enjoyed the particular atmosphere of this track, then going out in the car today, it's nice to feel what comes across from the fans – it reminds me of being at my home races.
“In terms of the character of the circuit, we are usually good on braking and traction, and there are not so many of the medium and high-speed corners in which we have not been so strong this year. It certainly looks good in terms of my position today, and I'm pleased with that, but we will only find out tomorrow what it is really worth.”
Team-mate Rosberg, by stark contrast, was frustrated by KERS woes at the beginning of FP2, requiring the system to be changed and costing the younger of the two Germans valuable track time. His programme was subsequently adapted to focus on race preparation, and he did not complete any running on lower fuel – explaining his lowly 19th position at the close of play.
“I didn't have an ideal afternoon as we had some issues, particularly with the KERS problem at the start of the session,” the 26-year-old mused. “However, by the end of the day, we have learned quite a lot for the race, and importantly I was able to get used to the track. Monza is a very different circuit from many others with the high-speed sectors and low-downforce corners, and it takes a bit of time to find your rhythm here.”
Between them, Schumacher and Rosberg completed a total of 113 laps – equivalent to more than two race distances around the legendary Autodromo Nazionale – as the Italian sun beat down, and overall, Brawn professed himself satisfied with the day's work.
“We had two very solid practice sessions today and achieved some good work,” the Englishman underlined. “We had a small problem with Nico's car this afternoon which required the KERS pack to be changed, and the team did a good job to get him out again so quickly. I'm pleased with our progress over the course of the day, and we're looking forward to a good weekend at this very special racetrack.”
“A constructive first day for us here,” echoed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “Nico had a KERS problem at the beginning of the second session which cost him ten laps compared to Michael, who completed 39 laps this afternoon including race simulations and one 'Option' [tyre] run on a lower fuel load. The lap times during our race simulation runs looked consistent. Tomorrow and on Sunday, we can build on the decent base we have found today.”