While Michael Schumacher has set his sights on the Formula 1 world championship next year (clearly, this has been his target for virtually every year he’s been an F1 pilot, and when you consider that he won 7 titles in 15 full seasons on the F1 grid, it wasn’t such an unrealistic expectation), Mercedes GP chief executive Nick Fry has been a bit more conservative in his goal-setting, at least publicly.
As Fry recently said in an interview with GP Update, “I think for 2010 we have to aim for a top three place in the Constructors’ Championship and of course we need to win races. It’s very difficult to go beyond that because we don’t know at this stage what our competition will do. I think Ferrari will be very strong, I think McLaren-Mercedes will also be very strong, maybe Red Bull with Sebastian (Vettel) again, so until we can see where they have developed their cars we won’t know exactly where we are but if we’re not in the top three I think we’re all going to be extremely disappointed.”
Fry has also given a balanced rationale for bringing Michael Schumacher on board the Meredes squad. Rather than stressing only Schumacher’s race-winning skills, he also emphasized the German’s qualities as a development driver.
“We really think Michael will take us to the next step,” Fry said. “We were good enough to win the Championship this year, but we want to do it again in the future and we really think Michael can do us help do that. I think the first thing Michael brings to our team is great experience. For someone who has won seven World Championships they just have a huge amount of knowledge with a great team like Ferrari and I’m sure he will help us to achieve similar things.”
Clearly, Fry is hoping that the Schumacher-Brawn duo can recapture the magic they enjoyed at Benetton and Ferrari, where as a team they won a total of seven drivers’ titles and eight constructor’s titles.
Also implied: that what Brawn/Mercedes have been lacking, even during their extremely successful 2009 season, was a driver with Schumacher’s technical savvy. Ross Brawn has made public statements to the effect that Jenson Button was somewhat deficient in his development skills, and while Rubens Barrichello has a fairly good reputation for giving driver input, one suspects that he’s not on Schumacher’s level.
Fry’s remark about his hopes that Schumacher can take Mercedes “to the next step” seems telling. After all, when you’ve just won both the drivers’ and the construstors’ titles, what would “the next step” be? One suspects that the staff at Mercedes realize that they were somewhat lucky in 2009. They had the quickest package out of the box, owing largely to an extended development timeline (they abandoned upgrades on the 2008 car almost from the first race, as that car was such a disaster), and a brilliant exploitation of the “douuble-diffuser” loophole in the technical regulations. They also benefited hugely from a move from Honda power to Mercedes.
But by mid-season, the other teams, most notably McLaren and Red Bull, began to catch up, and it must be very apparent to the Brackley-based squad that they’re unlikely to begin 2010 with the same kind of head start that they had in 2009. This means, they’ll be forced to rely more on in-season upgrades to keep pace with the competition. With in-season testing banned, having someone of Schumacher’s caliber will be essential to sorting out the car in a compressed time frame. This is doubly true when you consider that Schumi’s team mate will be Nico Rosberg, who, while considered by many to be a star of the future, has only four years’ experience under his belt, and those years were spent at Williams, which is now a second tier team.