Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg has been diplomatic in the face of mounting criticism of team mate Michael Schumacher’s performance, which has thus far failed to live up to expectations. While Rosberg might have played politics in the press in an effort to consolidate his position as de facto number one, he has conscientiously avoided this, and has been careful to say nothing to the media that might be misinterpreted or taken out of context.
Moreover, he has been generous in his assessment of Schumacher’s performance relative to his own. Rosberg believes that Schumacher will improve as the season wears on, and will likely approach his old world-beating form. “I’m happy to be ahead of him [now] but I don’t know how long it will last,” Rosberg told Gazzetta dello Sport.
As for Rosberg’s view of his own performance, he has been pleasantly surprised at the level of his competitiveness compared to Schumacher’s. “I would have been content to be [merely] at his level,” Rosberg said. “Now I hope I can carry on fighting with him.” Clearly, being ahead of Schumacher at this stage has been an unexpected icing on the cake.
Rosberg also allowed that initially he’d had qualms about working with the seven-time world champ. Schumacher is noted for dominating his team mates, and turning them into impatient understudies. Both Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello quit Ferrari after they’d tired of toiling in Schumi’s shadow.
While it’s often been assumed that Schumacher has had number-one status guaranteed in his contracts, first at Benetton, and then at Ferrari, Ross Brawn, who guided Schumacher’s career at both teams, has always denied this, stating flatly that it’s performance alone that has designated the pecking order within the teams, and nothing else. Naturally, this doesn’t bode well for Schumacher if he’s unable to raise his game in his comeback year.
Rosberg went on to say, however, that his qualms about being bullied by Schumacher were soon erased once he started working with the German ace. “People probably have the wrong opinion on Michael,” he said. “I myself thought that it wouldn’t be a good thing to have him as team-mate, when instead I’m positively surprised about it.”
Indeed, both Brawn and team CEO Nick Fry have been quick to acknowledge that, even if Schumacher’s race results haven’t yet met expectations, his contribution to the team has been enormous. Fry in particular indicated that he has never worked with a driver who’s provided the level of technical feedback that Schumacher has.
As to whether either Rosberg or Schumacher will be able to don the mantle of de facto lead driver this year, or they instead find an approximate parity, only time will tell.