Nico Rosberg wins the 2016 FIA Formula One European Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Daimler Global Media

Returning to Form, Nico Rosberg Dominates the 2016 European Grand Prix

Masterful domination.  Those are the two words to properly describe Nico Rosberg’s European Grand Prix weekend.  He secured the pole position at the Baku circuit.  He had a strong start, no “glitches” and led from start to finish.  If you were looking for action, you had to wait until Nico passed.  Long after he passed.  Nico finished 16 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, and 41 seconds ahead of Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez.

What happened to Lewis Hamilton?  According to Toto Wollf, the head tech guy at AMG Petronas, both cars had trouble with power unit settings.  Rosberg figured his out within a couple of laps, Hamilton took 12.  One he figured it out, Lewis zoomed back to finish P5.  Taking 12 laps to fix the problem was way too many for a 51-lap race.  FYI, the crews cannot communicate fixes for onboard problems.



For Scuderia Ferrari, Vettel’s second P2 in as many races was another sign they’re not out of it, and are knocking on the door of victory.  Even better, teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s P4 help the Prancing Pony close to within 80 points of surpassing Mercedes for the Constructors Cup.  Vettel ran a fine race, but Rosberg was simply better.  Just like last week when Hamilton did the same thing in Canada.

Sergio Perez, of Sahara Force India, is on fire.  This is his second podium in 3 races, and his efforts have left him in 8th place for the Driver’s Championship. With the season not yet at midpoint, Perez has time to continue make a mark on the 2016 F1 season.

How about Haas F1, the biggest rookie surprise of the 2016 season?  Both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Guttierez finished the race.  Grosjean is 11th in the Driver’s standings at 22 points, and the team is in 8th place for the Constructor’s Cup.

Following are comments from drivers and teams:

AMG Petronas


Nico Rosberg

I am so happy to win here in Baku. I really felt at one with the car in a way I’ve never felt before. I didn’t have the feeling that something would go wrong at any point today. The car was awesome this weekend, so thank you so much to the team for this. I already began to sense it in Qualifying yesterday, this perfect feeling. We expected a Safety Car moment in this race, so I was hoping that it wouldn’t happen as that tends to mess up the race in general. But it was a pretty straightforward afternoon for me at the front. There was only one little concern when I felt that I was down on power a bit in the middle of the race. The engineers weren’t allowed to tell me what I had to do, so I had a look at my steering wheel and tried to fix it myself, which worked out well. Sagol! – which means ‘thank you very much’ – to Baku for this great weekend. I look forward to Austria now!

 

Lewis Hamilton

I have no idea what happened out there today. I just had no power. I was in an engine mode which made it feel like I was driving without ERS for a long time. We have hundreds of different combinations of switch position on the wheel and, no matter how much you study, there’s no way to remember them all. I was driving around looking at my screen trying to work out what was wrong – but I couldn’t see anything I’d done differently. It’s such a complicated, technical formula we have now and I don’t really see the benefit in preventing us from being able to fix these things out on track. It was just a real shame that I couldn’t race. If I’d been able to resolve it, I might have at least been able to be a part of the show and fight with the guys ahead of me. With about ten laps to go it sorted itself out – but by that time there was nothing to be gained or lost as I was more than ten seconds behind the guy in front and the same ahead of the guy behind. I actually turned the engine down at the end to save it, knowing that I don’t have so many left for the season. But it wasn’t to be today, so the result is what it is. I’ve got points for P5 and now I’ll try to bounce back at the next race.

 

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

We all went into the race expecting lots of action – and while maybe the 51 laps didn’t deliver as many fireworks as we saw in other races this weekend, there was plenty going on in our garage! First of all, let’s talk about Nico. He did a fantastic job this entire weekend – a great pole position yesterday then a dominant race performance today. He got a good start, pulled away and just controlled everything from there; it wasn’t a problem-free afternoon for him but it was pretty close to being so. For Lewis, the first target was to survive lap one; he kept his nose clean and then started picking off the cars in front of him. He reported some electrical de-rates quite early on but it only became clear around his pit-stop that he was suffering from quite a big performance deficit with the car. Once we had identified the problem, it could have been changed with a single radio message – but the rules, which are of course the same for everybody, prevented us from doing so, and we were only authorised by the FIA to use very specific phrasing. It was an unusual and counter-intuitive problem with an engine mode so there was no way Lewis could know what to change to solve it. Eventually, he managed to find the right solution – as Nico had done several laps earlier, having switched into the mode causing the problem part way through the race – and then he set the fastest lap of the race at that point. However, it was too late to recover any position, so he took the smart decision to save the engine and bring the car home. We have had a warm welcome here in Baku and the organisers have delivered a fantastic and exciting new street circuit. But from the team’s point of view, although we extended our points lead, we should have come away with more – and correcting those problems will be our focus in the coming days.

 

Paddy Lowe, Executive Director, Technical

Starting at the very beginning, we were relieved to see both cars make it cleanly round the first lap after the chaos of the GP2 races earlier in the weekend. From there, Nico did a fantastic job. After a great pole position yesterday, he capitalised on that with a superbly controlled drive from start to finish – managing his tyres, engine and brakes perfectly. For Lewis, it was never going to be easy from P10. Unfortunately, this turned out to be even more difficult than we had predicted. The pace of the car was not as strong as it had seemed on our long runs during Friday’s practice sessions, with some of our rivals proving impossible to overtake. This is something we need to look into and understand, as he wasn’t able to extract the pace he’d shown throughout the weekend to that point. We did see a problem with Hybrid energy management on both cars. There was a configuration related to the management of Hybrid energy which unfortunately was not correctly tuned during our race preparations. What this caused was premature de-rates down the straight, costing the driver around three to four tenths of a second per lap. It was only present when the driver selected a specific strategy mode on the steering wheel, with the other modes unaffected. Unfortunately, under the new radio restrictions introduced for this year, the team is unable to tell the driver which mode to use – or not to use, in this case. Having sought permission to do so from the FIA, we were able to give the drivers an indication – but nothing more. It was a bit like asking them to solve a crossword puzzle with minimal clues while driving at in excess of 200mph, which is no mean feat! Unfortunately for Lewis, it took around 15 laps to rectify the problem. This lost him a lot of time before eventually he was back to full speed – by which time it was too late to make a charge for the podium, which was a definite possibility for him today. The bigger problem we need to understand is why his car was not as quick as it should have been overall.

 

Scuderia Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel

We can be very proud of what we achieved today, both cars got points. We were very bad off and slow on Friday and initially we didn’t know why. We changed a lot in the car, made big steps forward, and we finished second today. I think the way things went on the track was fantastic, but we can’t be entirely happy. We lost a position with Kimi but he played nice team work, he was very kind to hand me the place. In the end it was a bit of a shame that we didn’t manage to finish second and third, but I think he was struggling quite a bit with his tires. It was not a fresh set. I had a good feeling with the tires, so I kept the first set a bit longer, even if after a couple of laps I wasn’t so confident. But later the tires did recover and from that point it was good again. The season is long and I think there’s a lot of stuff happening here, but especially back in Maranello. Our President is pushing very hard, but in a good way. He is willing to understand, help us and to push us, as well. Ambition is high but, moving forward step by step, I am sure we will do the right things for this year and for the future to make sure we give the others a very hard time. We didn’t have a wonderful start of the season, even though the car has been good, but I think most of the times we didn’t fully use our opportunities. However, today we did a great job. We will keep doing the optimum and keep enhancing our chances to be there at the end of the year, but surely we know we have to pick up our game and improve the car.

 

Maurizio Arrivabene

If we look at where we were on Friday, we can be happy with the step forward that has been made during the weekend. Today our race pace was good, albeit not quite as good as it should be. We saw a very good performance by both our drivers, so as our President says, we must work hard to provide them with a better car. As we had seen already in Canada, the engine seems to be our strength, while we still need to work on the other areas, because this car has proven to be very sensitive to set-up changes. I have no complaints for Kimi’s penalty: he was racing hard and overtook a lot of cars. When he realized he was being penalized, he then proved to be a very good team-mate to Seb. The gap to our main competitors is still there so we have to work hard to improve in the areas where we are still weak and keep focusing on this year, because there’s still a long way to go to the end of the season. Congratulations to Seb for a second place which, once again, shows what a talented driver he is.

 

Sahara Force India

Sergio Perez

I knew that the podium was possible today, but we really had to work hard for it. The key to my race was the great start I made to get around a Williams [Massa] and a Toro Rosso [Kvyat]. Then, in the first stint I was suffering with graining of my supsersoft tyres and we had to decide whether to wait for it to improve or to make an early stop. In the end, we stayed out longer, which was the right decision, but when I came out of the pits I struggled to warm-up the soft tyres and I was under big pressure from Lewis [Hamilton] behind. I pushed as hard as I could and opened up a gap, and then I focussed on looking after my tyres. I closed in on Kimi [Raikkonen] and I knew he had a penalty, but on the final lap I got very close to him and saw the opportunity to overtake him, so I took it. To be on the podium for a second time this year feeels fantastic. The team has done a brilliant job and we are having an amazing year.”

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