Mercedes GP CEO Nick Fry is bullish on Michael Schumacher’s performance. As is well known by now, Mercedes has been working diligently to modify the W01 to suit Schumacher’s driving style. The major change to the car has been a lengthened wheelbase, which has enhanced front end grip, and given the car a more neutral-to-oversteer quality, which is Schumacher’s preference.
“The sparkle is back,” Fry told Autosport during the race weekend in Barcelona. “I think in China he was perplexed – that is the best word to use. I don’t think he really understood or we really understood why he had the problems he did, and that is always a major concern. Right from the beginning of Friday in Spain he was on it right from the start, and listening on the radio to Michael, there is the confidence back in his voice. He knows exactly what he wants from the car and he got all that could be had.”
Schumacher had previously complained about the car’s responsiveness, saying he had to “wait” for the car to respond to driver input. In China, where he turned in his worse performance of the season thus far, some observers noted that Schumacher’s car appeared to fishtail quite a bit, very likely a result of shifting the balance of the car to an extreme in an attempt to give the front end additional grip. As a result, the rear end grip was decimated.
The wheelbase alteration seems to be a successful workaround. It should be stressed that a workaround is what it is, rather than a solution. The deficiency is really inherent in the chassis design. The Mercedes designers, who had to cope with both larger fuel tanks and smaller front tires for 2010, got the balance parameters wrong. Also, the car was designed with Jenson Button in mind. There are probably no drivers on the grid who favor an oversteering car as much as Schumacher does.
As car development proceeds over the course of Schumacher’s three-year contract, it will be interesting to see how much it favors Schumacher rather than his team mate, Nico Rosberg. Rosberg appears to be much more comfortable with a car that understeers.
One of Schumacher’s great strengths has always been car development. He was a tireless tester, and was always major influence in molding the cars he drove to suit his personal preferences.
Unfortunately, with the current in-season testing ban, his opportunities for this are limited. However, Schumacher has been working closely with engineers to sort out the car. Nick Fry commented on the situation: “He was concerned after China, because we didn’t understand what happened. He spent a day at the factory with his engineers and he spent a day out cycling with them, and I think they worked on some things together. We are back on track with him.”
While Fry might well be bullish on Schumacher’s progress, he also recognizes that the gap to the leaders (i.e. Red Bull) seems to be increasing. “When you finish a minute behind it is incredibly disappointing and the reality is that we have a lot of work to do,” he said.