Nico Rosberg is obviously growing more comfortable in his position at Mercedes. One year ago, he was a bit concerned once it had been announced that the legendary Michael Schumacher would be his team mate. After all, not only was Schumi the most successful F1 driver in the history of the sport, he also had a long-standing working relationship with team boss Ross Brawn, from their years together at Benetton and Ferrari.
As the year progressed, however, it became apparent that Rosberg had the measure of his illustrious team mate. Granted, Schumi was coming off of a three-year hiatus, and was uncomfortable with the inherent understeer in the Mercedes chassis, but at the end of the day a modern F1 team is run by numbers not rationalizations. Whatever doubts Rosberg might have had, they began to evaporate. He was measured against the best in the business (formerly, at any rate), and he was not found wanting.
During the year, Rosberg kept mum about Schumacher’s struggles in the cockpit. When asked, he responded diplomatically, assuring anyone who asked, that Schumacher would certainly find his sea legs again soon. But perhaps now that he has a year under his belt as Schumi’s team mate, he’s not inclined to be such a diplomat.
Recently, when Fernando Alonso was asked to name his most serious rival for the coming season, he picked Schumacher. A few eyebrows were raised at this, and perhaps no one raised his eyebrows higher than Nico Rosberg. Regarding Alonso’s remark, the young German pilot told Auto Moto und Sport, “I found it a bit strange. Why not say Red Bull will be his nearest rival? That would be obvious.”
And to reiterate his confidence in his own performance during the coming year, compared to that of his team mate, Rosberg told Bild am Sonntag recently, “It may be close between us, and maybe he will beat me, but there’s no way he’s going to put me in the shade. There is no reason why I would be worse than last year – on the contrary, I will be better.”
The fact is, during the last few races of 2010, Schumacher finally began to show more consistent speed against his younger partner. According to Schumi, this was because he had his engineers had finally learned how to cope with the car’s inherent understeer and the weak grip of the narrow front Bridgestones. In 2011, the car should be tweaked more to Schumi’s liking, with a nervous front end, and the Pirelli front tires should be grippier than ther predecessors.
Look for Schumacher to raise his game next year. That should be a given. On the other hand, we should also expect Rosberg to raise his. After all, he’s still on the ascending portion of his career performance curve. Schumacher is likely on the far side of his. It’s likely that Rosberg will at least keep Schumcher honest next year. It’s also a given that Schumacher will do the same for Rosberg.