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GP Week : Issue 149
Amidst all the talk of Mercedes’ ‘Double-DRS’ innovation, and the advantages it particularly imparts in qualifying, it was too easy to undervalue the work of Nico Rosberg in Shanghai last Sunday. To take the pole in a quick car is one thing; to out-qualify your team-mate, Michael Schumacher, by the margin of half-a -second is something else – particularly if it is a Michael who has taken nicely to the 2012 Pirellis and who has proved to be the superior team driver in the opening two races. Aero advantage or not, Nico still had to drive that Q-lap – and he did so looking very much like the Michael of 2002- vintage, with those almost-lazy hand and arm movements belying footwork that perfectly-managed the brakes and power against load. Michael, by contrast, resembled Nico circa 2007-08, when Nico was a Williams driver and reflexes and late braking ruled the day. Michael would have thought: “OK. I’ll have him on Sunday”; indeed he publicly said as much late on Saturday afternoon, possibly as much to unsettle Nico as to explain his margin of loss: “in terms of set-up we have prepared the car mainly for the race ... tomorrow is another story ...” Come the start, though, beneath a packed grandstand of mainly VIPs and sponsors’ guests (the prime outfield grandstands in China remained sickeningly empty, despite this being the ninth appearance of F1 in the world’s second-biggest economy), Nico was Jim Clark off the line – and through the opening three laps, when it was going to be vital for him to establish a DRS-protected lead. Again, his driving looked calm and Button-like. He perhaps makes the corners a tad shorter than Jenson – he creates a few more straight lines – but his body language and nuances are uncannily similar. His biggest bugbear was something that Jenson also knew only too well prior to Hungary, 2006 – to wit, his ability actually to win. Taking the Chinese pole went some way towards embracing that. The speed was there. The intra-team position was there. The lap was there. No matter how dominant your pole, though, tomorrow, as Michael was quick to pronounce, is another day. As Lewis Hamilton demonstrated as recently as Melbourne, the pole means zero if you don’t get your start procedure correct. Now, perfect start and opening laps behind him, Nico had but a clear track both in front and behind. Michael, for all his race-day set-up, was drifting away. And Michael drifting away meant problems for Nico’s other potential challengers – for Jenson, for Lewis (despite his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change), for the Saubers and for Kimi. And for Red Bull Racing – even though Sebastian Vettel’s poor qualifying performance had taken much of the sting from their weekend. Out front, with a Grand Prix race never feeling easier, Nico was left to wonder about what could go wrong. And that, of course, is probably the most stressful thing about which a racing driver can subconsciously muse... Could it be a mangled pit stop? As it turned out, those calamities were reser ved on this day not only primarily for Michael – but also for Jenson (amongst the potential winners). By now 6.2 seconds behind his team- mate, Michael pulled out of P2 on lap 12. Pit lane folklore suggests that it’s always better to bring your slower driver in for the first of the day’s stops – the better to warm-up the crew – and so it proved at MercedesAMG. Michael was released before a pesky right front wheel 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> CHINA