Category archive: Nico Rosberg

Close, competitive racing has been the recipe throughout this Formula One season, but if this trend continues up front in Catalunya, it will prove to be a considerable exception for the circuit.

While the track is a familiar one for teams, it has not been known for providing close finishes. Last year was very much a rarity, with Sebastian Vettel holding off Lewis Hamilton by a mere 0.6 seconds. Aside from that result, no event at Catalunya has been decided by fewer than three seconds.

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Michael Schumacher
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images Michael Schumacher owned the Grand Prix of Spain in his heyday, winning it six times.

In fact, of the 21 previous grands prix held, 19 have been won by more than a margin of five seconds and 14 have been decided by over 10 seconds.

While that certainly does not bode well for a memorable finish in Spain, if any season can deliver an exciting battle, this would certainly be among the top contenders.

The combination of tires that degrade quickly and an increase in the number of competitive teams has made this season very much a guessing game, and with any luck Spain will see a continuation of the 2012 excitement.

It certainly has been an unpredictable grand prix recently, as the last six events here have produced as many different winners. In addition, of the six former F1 champions on the grid, only Hamilton has yet to capture a win at this venue.

If Hamilton wants a legitimate chance at a victory here, he'll want to start on pole, or at least the front row. A staggering 10 of the last 11 winners have come from the pole, with the lone exception coming last year (Vettel won after starting second).

Since Catalunya began hosting F1 in 1991, only once has a driver won after starting outside the front row, and that was merely a third-place start from Michael Schumacher in 1996.

By comparison, a track such as Monaco, which stresses qualifying more than most venues, has 20 winners from the top three starting positions in that span but has just 10 from pole, compared to 16 in Barcelona.

Clearly, a top qualifying effort in Spain is absolutely critical for those who wish to win, making qualifying all that more riveting.

Perhaps Schumacher can boost his season at Catalunya, as Spain is one of his strongest grands prix. His six victories at the Spanish Grand Prix trail only France (eight), San Marino (seven) and Canada (seven) for his most at any grand prix, and he is now facing heightened expectations after his teammate Nico Rosberg drove to victory earlier this year.

Schumacher will have to continue to adjust to the Pirelli rubber, an aspect of the sport he is not pleased with, as he recently detailed to CNN.

"I just think they are playing much too big an effect, because they are so peaky and so special that we don't put the cars or ourselves to the limit," he said. "We drive like we're on raw eggs and don't want to stress the tires at all, otherwise you just overdo it and you go nowhere."

He has suffered from some bad fortune this season and, as a result, has earned fewer points than the likes of Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado.

His campaign with Mercedes has thus far been a disappointment, but there is still plenty of time to turn it around this season, especially with a car that appears to be more competitive than in past seasons.

The sport will also be celebrating an anniversary in Spain, as it will mark, to the day, the 62nd anniversary of the first Formula One race. That inaugural event was run in Silverstone and was won by Nino Farina and Alfa Romeo.

China very possibly left fans with more questions than answers, as a maiden Formula One victory for Nico Rosberg left many surprised. Doubts had been cast toward Mercedes ever since the famous name returned to the sport for 2010, but it has finally paid dividends with an impressive victory. Much like his team, Rosberg often was enshrouded among questions of when success would come at the highest level, and while those have been answered, it now leaves many wondering how this season will play itself out.

Nearly 57 years had passed since Mercedes' last F1 win at Monza in 1955. It came at the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio, and at that time Formula One had not yet hosted even 50 points-paying events.

Rosberg delivered a dominant performance right from the start and ended up winning by just over 20 seconds, the fourth-largest margin of victory by a first-time winner since 1995. Two of the three drivers ahead of him on that list, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, have since gone on to win championships. A title this season may seem unlikely, but Rosberg's father, Keke, won his lone championship in 1982, the very same season he earned his first F1 victory.

Rosberg even surprised himself a bit with his performance, as he explained to reporters after the race, "I'm very happy, very excited. It's been a long time coming for me and for the team as well over the past two years and a bit. Now, it's finally here. It's just amazing, and it's just nice to see how quickly we are now progressing. I didn't expect to be that fast today."

After a blistering pole lap, the underlying concern was that Mercedes would struggle to maintain pace during the grand prix, but that simply was not the case. The tires held remarkably well, and Rosberg was able to utilize a two-stop strategy.

Winning from pole has become a rarity of sorts recently, as Rosberg became the first man on pole to win since Sebastian Vettel in India last season. In between, there had been four straight events in which a driver claimed victory having started outside first.

Behind Rosberg, a sea of cars competed for the points-paying positions and the action rarely let up. The varying strategies provided for a very entertaining battle, and it now appears as if no single team has a significant, consistent advantage over the competition. The strongest team now appears to be McLaren, and Button and Lewis Hamilton did a remarkable job to earn podium spots in Shanghai. By virtue of three third-place finishes to start the season, Hamilton is now the championship leader.

But many other teams seem to be threatening in 2012, and the year is much more balanced throughout compared to last season. After all, just one race ago nine constructors managed to score points.

Overall, the on-track product in China continued to thrill, and for the second straight year in Shanghai, only one car suffered from a retirement.

The heat of Bahrain may mean the attrition rate is considerably higher, but that is certainly not the primary concern of teams as they prepare for the fourth event of the season. Despite continued protests and upheaval, Formula One will compete in Bahrain after canceling last year's event, and safety will no doubt be a primary concern for all attending.

In the last visit there, the layout was revised, with an additional group of slow turns added following Turn 4. It lengthened the lap by nearly a full kilometer, but the alteration was not generally well received, and the track will revert to its former layout this year.

The track has witnessed two hat tricks (win, pole and fastest lap) in its limited time (Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Felipe Massa in 2007) and is one of six grands prix to host multiple hat tricks since the 2004 season.

The engines are quiet, but the offseason noise has just begun in Formula One.

Launch dates, rule alterations and driver changes are just a few items occupying F1 teams at the moment, and there is much work to be done prior to Bahrain in March.

Among the younger teams, Lotus seems to have a distinct advantage considering it began preparations for 2011 very early on last year, announcing intentions to focus on the coming year's car as early as May.

With a new engine supplier -- Renault -- Lotus could show strong improvement next season, whichever name they end up running under.

One rookie, Kamui Kobayashi, was very deserving of a race seat for 2011, and he received one by returning to Sauber.

Another rookie, however, was not as fortunate as 2009 GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg was left without a starting ride for next season when he was replaced by Pastor Maldonado at Williams.

It's a fantastic opportunity for reigning GP2 title-winner Maldonado, but he will inevitably be compared to the man he replaced, as both made their entry into F1 via Williams immediately following a GP2 championship.

Maldonado has a considerable amount to live up to, considering Hulkenberg managed to earn points in seven races this season, the second-highest total by an F1 rookie driving for Williams since 1996.

There are several variables over the years, of course.

Hulkenberg had the benefit of several more races and an expanded points system. But he also had a less competitive car than Jacques Villeneuve in 1996, when Williams finished first and second in the drivers standings.

Hulkenberg's season was by no means bulletproof, but his progress as the year unfolded was undeniable.

In his first 11 races, Hulkenberg earned just two points, but in the final eight race weekends the young German collected 20. Equally impressive is the fact that he had just one retirement in his final 10 events of the year.

He capped it all off with pole position in Brazil.

Elsewhere, Michael Schumacher no doubt raised a few eyebrows in early December when he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, "We will make a big leap forward and -- if all goes well -- win races."

A 91-time winner in the series would normally be taken at his word, but after a trying 2010 season, questions certainly abound.

If Schumacher wants to have any chance at winning races next season, he'll have to start beating teammate Nico Rosberg, who consistently outpaced the seven-time world champion last season; Rosberg scored better than Schumacher in numerous metrics.

Keep in mind, twice Schumacher finished better than Rosberg when his young teammate retired after accidents that were out of his control. One came at Japan. Another occurred at Korea when Mark Webber lost control and came back across the track, collecting Rosberg in the process.

Yet another better finish came in Hungary when Rosberg lost his wheel on pit road while running well ahead of his teammate. Pirelli's tire may suit Schumacher better, but in order to realistically target wins in 2011, he'll have to tackle his teammate first.

Making some back-page headlines recently was also the news that American Alexander Rossi had recorded the fourth-fastest time in the GP2 tests at Abu Dhabi.

Rossi finished fourth in GP3 this past season, and could be America's most likely candidate for a future F1 seat.

A driver from the United States is paramount in the upcoming years, as F1 is set to return stateside in 2012.

In years past, the sport has been woefully underrepresented by Americans.

Scott Speed was the most recent American to compete, but after an underwhelming tenure he was replaced by Sebastian Vettel at Toro Rosso.

Prior to that, no American had raced in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.

It's incredible to think that no one from the United States has won a grand prix since Mario Andretti in 1978, and only four Americans have competed in F1 events since 1983 (the year after Andretti's final F1 season).

If you have not yet viewed the latest Formula One driver standings, who would you guess is second behind Jenson Button?

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are all worthy choices, but it is actually Nico Rosberg who claims the second spot, albeit by slim margins.

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Nico Rosberg
AP Photo/Ahn Young-JoonMercedes GP crew members embrace Nico Rosberg after the German finished third in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

The man who entered this year in Michael Schumacher's shadow is now forming one of his own, with impressive, consistently high finishes this season. Rosberg has two consecutive podium finishes and has not finished worse than fifth in four events. In the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, he ran the fifth-fastest lap and orchestrated a sound race all around, spending less than 50 seconds in the pits on the day despite the changing weather conditions.

All the more impressive when you factor in that Alonso, Felipe Massa, Schumacher, Vettel, Hamilton and Mark Webber each pitted at least four times. Those numerous visits to pit lane by his rivals no doubt aided Rosberg's quest, but it also indicates a strong strategy by the No. 4 team.

If Rosberg continues to be a legitimate title contender, we may see Schumacher take on more of a role as a test driver during races for Mercedes GP, pitting frequently to take on different tire compounds to find the fastest setup. It would be a rather unimaginable scenario for the seven-time world champion, but one that appears more realistic with each day.

Rosberg's best career position in points:

Year -- Position -- Last race (order on calendar)
• 2010 -- Second -- China (fourth)
• 2010 -- Fifth -- Malaysia (third)
• 2010 -- Fifth -- Australia (second)
• 2009 -- Fifth -- Spain (11th)
• 2009 -- Fifth -- Hungary (10th)
*Does not include first race of season.

The McLarens again proved very quick, and had Hamilton had another lap or so he likely would have passed Button for the win. Button, however, drove a sound race in the wet conditions, and despite a late mistake or two showed he can compete against a teammate who is historically very good in the rain.

The 1-2 finish helped McLaren establish a lead in the constructors' title as well, although the team was certainly not without its share of controversy in both pit lane (Hamilton and Vettel) and on the track (Button slowing severely as the field was about to return to green-flag conditions).

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone did not seem too concerned, telling other teams to "stop complaining and get on with the racing." The racing was indeed on, and for the first third of the race, constant visits to pit lane left the viewer guessing as to who would emerge as the midrace leader.

Vitaly Petrov was equally impressive, not only earning his first race completion but his first points as well. Despite a midrace spin, Petrov bounced back, finishing seventh. It was just two places shy of teammate Robert Kubica, who, according to his postrace comments, could have finished even better.

"The critical moment of my race was when the safety car came out, which ended my hopes of a podium, because I lost the big lead I had to the cars behind me," Kubica said. "So although I'm happy to finish fifth, I still feel a bit frustrated to have missed a podium."

Nevertheless, it was an impressive showing from Renault, the strongest team outside the top four squads.

It was not a day to remember for others. The points leader entering the race, Massa, found himself pitting four times and battling Schumacher for ninth late in the race. He is now nearly 20 points shy of points leader Button.

The Asia swing is over for now, and F1 will not return until Singapore in late September. In three weeks Formula One will be at Catalunya, a track that has hosted F1 races since 1991. This will be the start of 10 consecutive races in either Europe (including Turkey) or North America, and of course includes some of the most prestigious events on the calendar: Monaco, Montreal, Silverstone, Spa and Monza.

As for Catalunya, Alonso will be seeking his second career victory at his home track. It will no doubt be his month, as he has two more wins than any other driver in May since 2005:

Most wins in May since 2005
• Fernando Alonso: four
• Jenson Button: two
• Felipe Massa: two
• Kimi Raikkonen: two

Alonso's pairing with Ferrari is also a fantastic omen for Barcelona, as the constructor has six wins at the circuit since 2000, three times more than any other team. If Alonso wins, he would be the fourth driver in that span to win for the prancing horse.