What the heck is Mercedes GP doing in Spain?

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Many of us have been talking about the non-Schumacher performance of the 7-time champion Michael Schumacher’s return. Some suggest he hasn’t got it any more (I’m looking at you Sir Stirling) and many have suggested that patience will see the return of the otherworldly skill the German possesses. Either way, it has been a waiting game for the Former Ferrari, current Mercedes driver.

Waiting is something that Schumacher is used to. When joining Ferrari in 1996, he waited over four years to see the dividends pay off and this was with his current boss Ross Brawn. It seems he is still prepared to wait for the Mercedes GP car to develop into the car he needs it to be in order to challenge for the title. According to AUTOSPORT, Herr Schumacher said:

“I see a lot of potential here especially as our team has been reacting very well over the past four races,” said Schumacher in a team preview ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

“We have worked on general improvements to the car, as well as specific developments in downforce and efficiency, and I am confident that we have room to make further progress in the future.

“Our step forward in Barcelona will be bigger than you can make at each race during the flyaways but it would not be realistic to expect us to suddenly be competing right at the front.”

New, realistic expectations set and more time purchased for his race craft to return. We’ve all been put on notice. But what are those changes for Barcelona? As we discussed here, the provincial point of view has been that Schumacher downgrade to the Mercedes chassis they used during testing. At play here is the handling of the car as Schumacher suffers from understeer.
According to Robert, James. “Why length matters in F1 this year.” F1 Racing Apr. 2010: 086 Print, the Brawn GP cars were heavy in 2009 and only allowed for 40kg of ballast to distribute for balance. This disparity with other teams ventured on a 20-30kg delta and you can imagine teh benefits of being able to place 20-30 kg’s of extra ballast exactly where you needed it.

This made the Brawn GP car a difficult solution for he world title and probably adds more credence to the performances that then drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello gave the team. It seems that may be a knock-on effect for 2010 in that the car is a shorter wheelbase and provides and unwanted balance that is antithetical to Shcumacher’s style.

It seems that Mercedes GP still have their oil tanks behind the cockpit and this doesn’t give the most flexibility for ballast placement or low center of gravity pursuits. Given this challenge, it seems that Mercedes has opted to try the longer wheelbase car for Spain as it will allow just that much more weight distribution and improved balance. This characteristic coupled with the new upgrades could help Schumacher but it remains to be seen if it is the silver bullet needed to win.

A longer car also lends itself to more room for aerodynamic benefits such as negative lift as well as better weight distribution. The concept here is to lower the center of gravity as the teams have added an additional 120 litres of fuel weight in 2010 and while the more fuel efficient cars will benefit form needing less fuel/weight, they too have looked at a longer wheelbase.

It may be that the shorter wheelbase car, while lighter and more agile, is actually less effective as the aero and weight distribution is more limited and this outweighs the benefits gained for a driver like Schumacher. Time will tell but a longer car can’t hurt at this point…he’ll he’d urinate on a spark plug if he thought it’d do any good at this point.

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