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Robert Wickens in F1 paddock in Montreal. (Jeff Pappone for The Globe and Mail)
Robert Wickens in F1 paddock in Montreal. (Jeff Pappone for The Globe and Mail)

Motorsports

F1 driver lends a hand to junior Canadian driver Robert Wickens Add to ...

Sometimes even those who understand the intricacies of the sport are amazed by a Formula One driver’s speed.

When Canada’s Robert Wickens scored his first career Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) podium last month in Brands Hatch, he was surprised to see who was the first to send a congratulatory text message: Mercedes F1 driver Nico Rosberg.

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“He even beat my parents to it,” said a broadly smiling and laughing Wickens, who has Rosberg as a mentor because he is part of the Mercedes’ young driver programme. “He’s actually been very helpful. It’s more of just a mindset thing – he’s a really relaxed guy and very friendly and it’s motivation to do better because you know he’s watching and interested. He’s really taking the job of being a mentor of the junior team to heart.”

While the F1 driver has lots on his plate piloting the Mercedes in grands prix around the world, he happily takes time from his busy schedule to watch all the DTM races and lend a hand wherever possible.

“I have big interest in DTM. It’s a great series, there’s Mercedes racing, and even my father has a team so I enjoy watching,” said Rosberg who won the previous F1 outing in Monaco.

“I’ve been in contact with Robert and seen him a couple of times – it’s nice to be in contact with those guys a little and also having him here to see what we do and maybe pick up a few things is good.”

Wickens and Rosberg will compare notes in Montreal this weekend during the Canadian Grand Prix, which the Canadian is attending as part of the Mercedes contingent. Wickens became a Mercedes junior driver when he signed to race for the manufacturer in DTM last year. Nico Rosberg is the son of 1982 F1 world champion Keke.

Although the younger Rosberg has been behind the wheel of a DTM car during “taxi rides” where fans and VIPs are taken out on track for thrill-of-a-lifetime-type experiences, he has never raced in the series.

While he might not be able to give detailed feedback on driving in DTM, there are certainly many areas where eight-year F1 veteran can help a young up-and-comer.

“I have a lot of experience now in racing and there are always small bits and pieces that I can give advice about and even vice-versa – sometimes there can be things that he spots on TV or whatever that he can say,” Rosberg said.

Wickens might need a bit of encouragement after his sophomore season in DTM has been a bit up-and-down so far. Through the first three races of the season, the 24-year-old from Guelph, Ont., has a retirement, a podium for third, and a 12th place finish, in that order.

The big challenge for the Mercedes team this year seems to be its poor qualifying performance, which has seen its starting well down the grid in dry conditions. The first race in Hockenheim saw two Mercedes in the top-4, but that was in changing conditions and not on a dry track. In that race, Wickens started fourth and was running fifth when he retired after a handful of laps due to a throttle problem.

The best Mercedes was able to do in qualifying for the next two races in Brands Hatch, U.K., and Spielberg, Austria, was the seventh by Wickens last weekend at the Red Bull Ring. In the race in England, Mercedes failed to get a car into the top-10 on the grid.

“Obviously, Mercedes isn’t content with where they are and they are pushing a lot to make steps forward,” he said.

“Maybe we can take a bit more risk in qualifying setup to try to be better in qualifying and and be in a better track position for the race. The problem we have is that we have to push so hard in the race to make up for lost ground that sometimes we are really hard on the tires.”

The next race goes June 16 at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany, where Mercedes has had success in the past, winning two of the past four races there.

Although the Mercedes seems to have good race pace despite its qualifying difficulties, moving up in DTM is not easy. The cars are quite evenly matched and the introduction of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) this year hasn’t helped.

In DTM, the drivers are allowed to use the DRS once anywhere during a lap provided they are at least two seconds behind the car ahead at the start-finish line. The DRS flattens the rear wing to lower drag and give a higher top speed.

“It doesn’t help because the series wasn’t right in making the activation point two seconds,” said Wickens who drives the STIHL Mercedes AMG C-Coupé.

“In DTM, it is so close that realistically you are always within two seconds of a car in front of you. So, if you are trying to overtake a guy and there is a car ahead that stays within two seconds, you just can’t pass him.”

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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