Former F1 pilot (Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton) and team owner (Toro Rosso) Gerhard Berger has been in the news lately voicing his opinions on most everything. In a recent interview with Auto Motor und Sport, he weighed in with his evaluation of the current crop of German drivers in the field. The Formula 1 grid seems to go through cycles with respect to predominance of driver nationalities, and this is a particularly good era for Germans.
While Nick Heidfeld has recently been relegated to the role of tire tester for Pirelli, the field still features a fairly wide range or Teutonic talent, including Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel, Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil. One would be hard pressed to name a period in which so many German drivers have populated the field.
Berger, himself an Austrian, has ranked Nico Rosberg particularly highly among this group. While Sebastian Vettel has been hogging much of the limelight, and is widely considered to be, along with Lewis Hamilton perhaps, the quickest driver on the grid at the moment, Berger insists that Rosberg is on the same plane.
“For me, Nico is on par with Vettel. He just needs the right car now to begin winning,” Berger told Auto Motor und Sport. “He has shown this year that he makes very few mistakes, that his setup is usually right, and that he is mostly ahead of Michael Schumacher. If Rosberg and Vettel were sitting in identical cars, I would not know who to put my money on.”
While Berger has previously tipped Rosberg’s team mate Michael Schumacher to be a serious contender for the title this year, Berger has since retracted this opinion, with the implication that Schumi is a bit past it, and Rosberg is nosing ahead.
The other German driver for whom Berger had praise was Adrian Sutil. “Last year I was laughing at him,” Berger said. “I would never have believed he has this much potential. His speed is tremendous, and his mistakes have reduced dramatically. For me, with Rosberg, he is the surprise of the season.”
Sutil himself has explained that his excessive mistakes last year resulted from pushing too hard, and asking too much of an underperforming car (Force India). Sutil has said that the 2010 Force India is inherently superior to last year’s model, and as a result he hasn’t taken as manyh risks, and has made fewer mistakes.
As for rookie and Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg, otherwise known as “the other Nico,” Berger has ackowledged that the young driver hasn’t quite lived up to advance billing. The Williams brain trust had boasted, more or less, that they had another Lewis Hamilton on their hands, but thus far Hulkenberg has failed to impress. He’s been adaquate without setting the world on fire. His older team mate, veterean Rubens Barrichello, has been showing him the way at every turn.
Said, Berger, “[Hulkenberg] is in a learning phase. He makes many more mistakes than Vettel and Rosberg did when they began, but Sutil was the same. I think Hulkenberg’s mistakes are normal for a first year. If everything goes right, he is almost at the level of Barrichello – and that’s a compliment.”
Hulkenberg was intended to be a long term investment for Williams, and they retained Barrichello for a year to help with technical development, and act as mentor to Hulkenberg. At this stage, however, it looks as though the team’s real coup was in hiring Rubinho as lead driver, as he has scored the best finishes for the team thus far.