Mercedes’ season goes downhill rapidly after win

2012 F1 season review

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“We must move forward,” said Ross Brawn at the launch of Mercedes’ W03 earlier this year. “We’ve had two seasons of fourth in the world championship and that’s not good enough. So we must move forward.”

This was the target for Mercedes’ third year as a full works team in F1. Nine months later they had scored the first victory for the Silver Arrows since 1955 and lured one of F1’s top drivers – from their more successful Mercedes-powered rivals – to join them for next year.

But they had also had slipped from fourth to fifth in the constructors’ championship.

Heading into this season Brawn noted: “Last year we produced a very bold car and, although its more radical elements didn’t always deliver the results we had hoped for, the experience we gained has been invaluable to the design of the 2012 car.”

Mercedes team stats 2012

Best race result (number)1 (1)
Best grid position (number) 1 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 10 (5/5)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,002 (83.98%)
Laps led (% of total) 48 (4.03%)
Championship position (2011)5 (4)
Championship points (2011)142 (165)
Pit stop performance ranking4

Much the same could be said of its 2012 campaign. The W03 did not suffer from a lack of imagination but while Mercedes poured effort into its own ideas it arguably missed out by not following the pack.

The W03 was not present at the first test of the year. Mercedes tested it at Silverstone – a spy shot appeared here courtesy of a reader – and once it joined the other cars in testing interest soon became focused on the team’s attempt to enhance the effect of DRS via its front wing.

The car’s performance at the beginning of the season suggested Mercedes were on to something. Michael Schumacher ran third in the opening stages in Australia. Then in China the W03s occupied the front row of the grid and Nico Rosberg shot off to an almost unopposed victory.

Had Mercedes found the ‘killer app’ of 2012 with their device, which was quickly dubbed ‘Double DRS’? Round six in Monaco gave further indication of the car’s performance as Schumacher was quickest in qualifying, losing pole position only due to a penalty from the previous race. In the race Rosberg hounded Mark Webber around the principality but there was no chink in Red Bull’s armour to exploit.

The team followed that up with third and sixth in Valencia, both Schumacher and Rosberg making rapid gains in the closing stages as the team got their tyre strategy spot-on. It put Schumacher back on the F1 podium for the first time since his comeback.

But this opening phase of the season was the high water mark of Mercedes’ achievement in 2012. Schumacher managed a pair of third places in wet qualifying sessions at Silverstone and Hockenheim but the team soon found themselves scrabbling in the lower reaches of the points.

While Mercedes grappled with the side-effects of Double DRS their rivals were making gains in a more conventional area. Namely, trying to restore the performance lost due to the restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers.

It took Mercedes until the Singapore Grand Prix to get their version of the ‘Coanda exhaust’ on the car, and after a troubled gestation it was eventually scrapped at the end of the year. Mercedes also tried their own version of Lotus’s DRS-enhancing set-up, but this too proved inadequate to the task of remedying the W03’s woes.

During this time the team’s performances slumped badly. They went five races without scoring a point and their fifth place in the constructors’ championship came under threat from Sauber.

This coincided somewhat unfortunately with the team’s coup of the year: the signing of Lewis Hamilton from McLaren. Their run of point-less races began after Hamilton signed for them, and he soon faced questions about whether he had made a mistake by switching teams.

The Hamilton deal came about as Schumacher prevaricated over whether he wished to continue his comeback for another year following a frustrating season. He missed out on several chances to exploit the W03 at its early-season best due to a series of car failures and, in China, a pit-stop blunder.

But unnecessary collisions in Spain and Singapore, and a horrible weekend in Hungary, were reminders that his best days are getting further away and now was the right time to stop.

The team will carry on without him in 2013 as the pressure to perform grows ever greater. Daimler has taken back full ownership of the team and chairman Dieter Zetsche is demanding better results.

Mercedes drivers’ 2012 race results

Michael Schumacher10103777611132211167
Nico Rosberg12131572661510101175111315

Mercedes drivers’ 2012 laps per position

Michael Schumacher01740184661877640869192733531315351628136732
Nico Rosberg486619278466658376138935170336219126495000

Over to you

They won a race, but they dropped back in the championship. They signed Hamilton, but lost Schumacher.

Was 2012 more a case of success or failure for Mercedes? Have your say in the comments.

2012 F1 season review

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Mercedes’ season goes downhill rapidly after win”

  1. What should have been Schumacher’s most successful return season, turned out to be a disaster. After qualifying and first few laps of Australian GP, season looked very promising, it actually looked like Schumacher could fight for some great points and victories. Boy, was i wrong and disappointed… I don’t remember a driver having such a disastrous start of a season. 7 races, 7 problems. And then Mercedes sinked like a rock. But anyway, I did see the old men i action for the last time, both on TV and live, so… thank you Michael. And I hope we see more competitive Mercedes next year.

  2. Rosberg is overrated in my opinion. Other than his undeniably flawless win in China this year, he hasn’t come on as strong as other rookies who have come into the sport, i.e: Hamilton and Vettel. Next year will be the definitive acid test for him.
    It has been a pleasure watching Schumacher race. It has also been embarrassing seeing him fight for just a single point in some races, but don’t take that away from the rest of his career achievements. Great seeing him on the podium at least once in his comeback. Well played Schu :)

    1. NR has yet to have the equipment LH and SV have enjoyed early on in their careers. Give him that and you will see a different NR.

      1. Totally agree! I would love to see him fight for a title.

  3. Mercedes had it bad this year in every way. In some respects they had a similar season to McLaren, in that they ultimately failed to achieve the performance that the car was capable of. However, unlike McLaren, they didn’t have a star driver to make the most of the car on the days when it wasn’t having problems. In fact, Schumacher was instrumental in losing them a massive chunk of points. The ‘pole’ in Monaco and the win for Rosberg being the highlights to a season which was otherwise absolutely abysmal. That car wasn’t a championship winner, by any stretch, but it had the potential to finish higher than it did in most races. I believe that if they’d had Hamilton in one of those cars this season instead of Schumacher, they’d have finished ahead of Lotus.

    It’s sad to see it end this way for Shumacher. He’s truly one of the greats of the sport. But when he retired the first time I thought it was a good move – retire when you’re at your peak. Retire while people question why you’re retiring, rather than wait until people start asking why you haven’t. Well, based on how he performed this year, his second retirement seemed inevitable unfortunately.

    1. I believe that if they’d had Hamilton in one of those cars this season instead of Schumacher, they’d have finished ahead of Lotus.

      Yeah sure because if Hamilton would’ve been in the car it wouldn’t have broken down all the time…

      1. Of course Hamilton wouldn’t have avoided the mechanical retirements. However, Schumacher made far too many driving errors this year, including at least two absolute howlers where he crashed out of the race for no reason. And even when he wasn’t crashing out, it generally seemed like his performance was far too erratic, with virtually no clean races to speak of.

        1. and Lewis has never made errors or crashed into another driver?

          Retire while people question why you’re retiring, rather than wait until people start asking why you haven’t

          I am very sure these guys dont race/retire based on what people think, he was motivated and thought he was good enough, Mercedes thought so, sponsors agreed and so he raced.

    2. Really? You think the drivers lost Mercedes 159 points this year?

      I’m curious where and how you think that happened.

      1. if Mercedes had more consistently got ahead of the Lotuses, then they wouldn’t have needed to score an additional 159 points, since Lotus would have scored fewer points by virtua of finishing at least one place down the order. But certainly Schumacher’s high profile crashes took away a significant haul of points.

        1. You’re right, Schumacher lost 8 points in Spain and 6 in Singapore crashing out. That would have made all the difference. Even if you would consider him winning in Monaco without the penalty and scoring a few points in Japan, you wouldn’t even come close to what you are saying, and those are big if’s.

          1. Without the mistake that cost him those 8 in Spain he would have been on Pole in Monaco. And its well possible that would have meant winning it. Suddenly we are already up to almost 40 points vs. Lotus just from that race RamboII !

    3. @mazdachris – You’re suggesting that Hamilton would have scored 210 points to Rosberg’s 93?

      1. I certainly think that Hamilton would have been able to outscore Rosberg over the course of the season. And when you have a strong lead driver it often spurs the second driver along to drive even harder. There’s every possibility that, had Rosberg had a stronger teammate, he may have put in better performances himself.

        When a team is performing strongly, they generate their own success as much through confidence as anything else. Qualify a few places higher up the grid, for instance, and suddenly the whole aspect of the race can change. Small operational errors like Schumacher’s wheelnut not going on, these are things which happen when a team is struggling. A strong driver can be totemic, and give the whole team a boost both in terms of the performance he puts in on the circuit, and the way he approaches development and setup. This is true for Lotus – yes they had a good car, but they also had a fantastically strong driver in Raikkonen. His strong, consistent finishes are what really secured their place in the constructors’. Had Mercedes beaten them a a few times at the start of the season, then it’s likely that Lotus would have scored fewer points throughout the season.

        Perhaps not enough to beat them overall, but I think they certainly could have got a hell of a lot closer than they managed.

        1. I’m not as convinced as you are on LH vs. NR, but we certainly will have a wonderful opportunity from 2013 forward to see how that rivalry plays out. It’s going to be great. I think if LH was in a Merc this year he might have faltered in terms of letting frustration get to him, and that might just be because he is used to top cars whereas NR only had a top car for one win in his career so far and is not used to feeling what a podium car is like, only to then have to deal with something far inferior. I think NR’s one win this year, and the way he handled having MS as a teamate, will bode well for him in now having LH as a teammate. I look forward to seeing where this team goes immensely.

          I think we could see a more invigorated NR than ever. And I think that LH, while we know his abilities in a car, has always been in a top 3 car, and so away from ‘home’ and in a car that needs to be developed into a top 3 car before he can do anything, will present a different side of LH that is for now an unknown. That’s his new challenge and I’m not yet convinced that his past excellent performances will guarantee him a trouncing of NR in a sub-top-3 car. They might be quite equal. At the same time, we don’t know really yet how good NR will be if he has the good fortune of ending up with a top car and is fighting with the ‘big boys’ for points/wins/the WDC. He may falter, or he may end up looking ‘LH-like’ when he finally has what LH has only known.

          1. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Nico will outscore Lewis next year. We’ve already seen Jenson outscore him over 3 years – and who thought that would have happened? Nico is very solid and dependable, and I think Lewis may get frustrated with not constantly being at the front of the pack and make mistakes. This along with the fact that Nico is already established in the team makes me think that this definitely won’t be a walkover

  4. I was surprised to see Rosberg underperform in many races this season. He fluffed the first two qualifying sessions of the year, when the car was still very strong, and from Valencia to Italy he finished behind Schumacher. Similarly, Schumacher had a number of very strong outings, but also too many very poor ones. It would have been nice to see Schumacher win in Monaco one final time, on a weekend when both he and the car were on it, but other than that I don’t think it will matter too much to him if he had gotten a few points more here and there.

    For next season, I hope to see Mercedes produce a car that allows Hamilton and Rosberg to mix it at the front, instead of the tyre-eating midfielder that they seemed to have since Singapore.

  5. oh, and there’s a typo at: “getation”.

  6. When you look back at Australia and how strong the car was, especially in qualifying, you have to wonder what they did during the year. For all the great people that they’ve signed within the team to improve it, it’s hard to see any improvement whatsoever. Many people have been disappointed with the three (now two) ‘new’ teams, because they haven’t moved up whatsoever. You could say the same about Mercedes, and in some ways, it’s worse. Not only do they have great people in the team, they also have money, and should have been fighting for the top 5 positions in my view.

    I’m going to liken their year to that of Lotus last year. An innovative car that perhaps was too innovative, and had no definitive direction which would allow a good rate of development throughout the year. It could be that next year they are stronger, especially with injecting a new driver into the team. It might be the boost they need to be the Lotus of this year…next year. If not, then all of their hopes will be on 2014, which will either make or break them.

    1. I’d say that the underperformance of Mercedes in 2012 was down to the following points:

      – A car which was initially fast but too hard on its tyres. A lot of development time went into rectifying this trait
      – Too much emphasis on an aerodynamic innovation (DDRS) which failed to deliver the performance they hoped for
      – Far too much unreliability
      – A reluctance to go down the route of the coanda exhaust
      – Drivers who, far too often, failed to deliver on the potential of the car when it counted most

      Perhaps the most crucial issue of the lot was that of the tyre degredation early in the season. If they hadn’t had this problem to sort out, they could have focused their development elsewhere. It seemed clear that the coanda/downdraft exhaust concept used by McLaren was working well and they should have been able to pick up on this sooner. Had they had the resources to put towards this, they would likely have binned the DDRS and tyre development early in the season and introduced a working model before the summer break. It was a chain reaction caused by a variable they probably couldn’t have accounted for – the Pirrelli tyres and their narrow operating window.

      1. I personally think that the apparent decrease in performance Mercedes suffered from was due to the rapid improvements made by the surrounding teams. Mercedes didn’t necessarily get worse, they just didn’t improve. I know this is a bit of a moot point given the results are the same in either situation but the massive performance increase in the Red Bull and Ferrari especially suddenly put 4 more cars ahead of them in the points at each race. Suddenly Mercedes are fighting for 7th and 8th instead of podiums, especially if you consider that the Lotus was fairly rapid all year long.

        The situation was a stark reminder of Renault from last year. Initial signs of promise but a lack of car development meant they dropped as far back as the 9th fastest team perhaps. I really hope I can say this time next year that Mercedes ‘did a Lotus’ in 2013 – Dire car the previous year, excellent one the next!

      2. I am pretty sure that one of the reasons why they hesitated with the Coanda exhaust was also that tyre degredation you mention @mazdachris, as blowing the rear wheels hurt them even more in this aspect (wasn’t that mentioned as on of the reasons why they ditched the coanda exhaust again at the end of the season?)

  7. Inever thought they wod win. Any of both titles but I expected more from them. They should do something with their developement system unless they will make Hamilton looks stupid.

    1. I wouldn’t say ‘stupid’.
      Lewis needed the change regardless, and he won’t be stuck there forever

  8. The Valencia podium pic has reminded me of an interesting stat:

    The most Drivers’ Championship titles shared by a single podium was 10 in Valencia of this year (Schumacher: 7, Alonso: 2, Raikkonen: 1).

    With Schumacher now retired this total won’t be equalled until at least 2017. (Vettel has 3, Alonso 2, Hamilton Raikkonen and Button 1 each means that in 2013 the maximum is 6)

    1. Nice stat. That podium picture reminded me of something else, though: the 2005 season :)

  9. Another tough year for the Brackley boys. I was just about to launch a tirade against them for underachieving but I’m actually going to give them some praise.

    Since the 2009 rule changes the Brackley team (in both of its guises) has actually been one of the more innovative teams, along with Red Bull Racing. In 2009 they gave us the Double Decker Diffuser, in 2010 they gave us the Blade Roll Hoop and in 2012 they gave us “Double” DRS. Quite a good series of innovations those. One turned out to be the must have innovation of the season and gave the team a massive headstart and the other two caught on to a much lesser extent. Still, you have to give them credit where it is due, they are trying to be innovative and sooner or later they are going to crack it again.

    1. What concerns me, is that Ross Brawn said that when the EBD was effectively banned, his team still had ideas hanging around from when they were doing the 2009 car, regarding the diffuser, though at the time the double diffuser was the most effective. However, I never saw them doing anything clever with the diffuser this year, and seemed to be lost on the concept of the exhaust. Perhaps they have more ideas for 2013, having seen that this car was far from what they wanted it to be, and if so, it might give them a chance.

    2. To be fair to the other teams regarding the double diffuser, there are plenty of stories around about several teams being a tad peeved with the FIA about that as they went to get approval for the same concept and were told it was illegal. The roster of teams told their double diffuser was not allowed included RBR, Williams and Toyota if I recall.

      1. Well Willaims and Toyota did start 2009 with the double diffuser too…

  10. MSC never led a lap this season? Surprising!

    1. Yeah: both Force India drivers have led at least one lap this season, but not Schumacher.

  11. It seems such a long time ago since Rosberg planted his Merc on pole and dominated the race in China, the tyres lasted fine, and Schumacher was quick too before his retirement. Add in their double-DRS – and it actually looked ominous for everybody in light of that Mercedes win… how things changed!

  12. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    11th December 2012, 17:40

    Mercedes based his progress on the grid in the assisted DDRS, I still remember Schum trying to cover the front wing when he crashed and the photographers were mad about taking a pic of it. The device didn’t work as they would have wanted for the whole season. it was a shame when Schum had to retire for the DRS not closing… Minor mistake can have big consequences in F1. Schum was penalized just before his “pole” in Monaco, what a terrible succession of events. Let’s hope the team gets better to receive Hamilton, whose days in McLaren this year were also marked by team mistakes (and some by his own too)

  13. It’s never surprised me that Mercedes are uncompetitive, there’s something deeply wrong about that team from it’s Honda days. They’ve made one good car in the past 5 years, that was a car that was a second faster than the competition at the beginning of the year, but was overhauled by mid-season.

    I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Mercedes had started up their own team, however I suppose that would have cost far too much.

  14. The 2012 was a really strange season for Mercedes. A very promising first few races, first win and pole, but then all went down, except of pole lap of MS and NR´s 2nd place in Monaco. The second half of the season was a real dissapointment for Merc fans, no progress, fighting for 10th place… And the most sad thing is that MS probably decided to retire because he was not sure that season 2013 will bring improvements. I am sure it will not be easy for LH to accept such situation…
    If 2013 turns out as bad as 2012, I really hope that the changes in regulations in 2014 will bring this team on top!

  15. I never was a fan of Schumacher but I disagree that it was time for him to retire. His pace relative to Nico has continuously improved thru 2010<2011<2012. This year he was bang on Rosberg's pace in qualy (10-10), and only huge amounts of bad luck prevented him from scoring as much points as Nico. Going by this trend he could've beat him in 2013, provided better reliability. Yes, he made 2 huge mistakes, but many drivers did as much or more. I also don't think it was his decision, I think he was pushed out because he thought about it too long.

    Nico, on the other hand, managed to beat Schu in China and capitalize on the one weekend when Mercedes were the class of the field. Really felt good for him to finally win in his 111th race.

    Regarding the car, I can't see them doing much better in 2013, as the inability to work with the tires properly seems to be a fundamental flaw of the design ever since 2009(brilliantly masked then by the DD). The regulations for 2013 are essentially the same as in 2012 so not much to do there IMO. 2014 impossible to say yet, but there's potential

  16. They won a race – successful
    They finished 5th – failure considering their goals
    It basically was a wasted season, somehow difficult to understand how could they have won by race 3 and then just slump down the order. but considering the whole year and even looking at their performance before China, in my opinion that race win was the exception and the general rule is that this season was a failure for the team.

  17. Their worst season overall I think. Sure, they had the win but they didn’t have anything like a proper vision for their season. It’s such a massive shame because they clearly have the talent to do so but just do a poor job of using it. I had no confidence in them at all this year to challenge even those around them on the grid, they seemed to do a good job of moving backwards rather than forwards. They never really got on top of the tyre situation either.

    Here’s hoping for a better 2013.

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