Michael Schumacher has confessed that Mercedes Grand Prix is 'not in the position we want to be' at the conclusion of F1 2010 pre-season testing and with the curtain-raising outing at Sakhir looming ever-nearer - as the record-breaking German legend pointed to McLaren-Mercedes and former employer Ferrari as 'the target'.

Schumacher wound up sixth-fastest on the final day of the group test around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya yesterday (Sunday) - and ninth overall - albeit less than three tenths from the outright pace set by McLaren foe and 2008 F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton as the leading runners proved to be the most closely-matched to-date.

The more pressing issue for the high-profile returnee - making what has been described as the greatest comeback in sporting history, three years on from his 'retirement' - is that 'Schumi' has yet to threaten the top of the timesheets at all in 2010, and that on Sunday Mercedes lagged behind not only anticipated title rivals McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari, but similarly behind comparative minnows Force India.

Two days earlier, the Kerpen native had also placed lower than a Williams, a Sauber and a Scuderia Toro Rosso - and despite his young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg going quickest on day three, Schumacher is keeping his expectations firmly in-check less than two weeks now from the Bahrain Grand Prix season-opener.

"We are not perfectly in the position we want to be for me to be competitive and win the first race," he is quoted as having said by British newspaper The Sun. "We are working hard, though, and it is very difficult to judge what the real picture is right now. You just do not know what fuel loads people are running."

That much is undeniably true, and the seven-time F1 World Champion also underlined that the rain that bedevilled six of the eight testing days at Jerez de la Frontera last month and one of the days in Barcelona had only served to further cloud predictions, with the lack of useful running time compromising many teams' preparations.

Nonetheless, even if his MGP W01 challenger is not on the outright front-running pace in Bahrain, the 41-year-old remains optimistic that over the balance of the campaign upgrades and improvements will still allow him to fight to fulfil his stated objective in rejoining the fray - the acquisition of an extraordinary eighth drivers' world championship crown.

"I don't know who has played all the cards yet," he told The Associated Press. "There are several teams that look very competitive, but I don't know the data. It looks like maybe we were running [with] more fuel than others, which is why our track times maybe were not so good. Looking at the results and data it looks not too bad - it looks reasonable.

"I think none of us have honestly [had enough test time] with the rain and bad weather at Jerez. Unfortunately, [in Barcelona] again we lost very important track time. Although it might rain occasionally during the year, for the development of the car you'd rather have consistent circumstances.

"The four testing days in Barcelona helped a lot, and I am now quite confident for the beginning of the season. It was positive that we worked on a lot of areas and thus gained valuable information. We are heading to Bahrain with a good feeling, because we know we will have additional new components on our car - but most of all we know that our prospects for the first races are looking very reasonable now.

"You have to win by the end of the season, not the beginning. We had our plan on how we wanted to develop the car. The majority of the running this winter was to get reliability, to work together with the team to maximise performance - and that's gone very efficiently."

In the meantime, however, Schumacher tipped Fernando Alonso - the only current competitor to have beaten him to the laurels in a straight fight, in both 2005 and 2006, the 91-time grand prix-winner's final two seasons before initially electing to hang up his helmet - and his former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa to make the early running, as well as Barcelona pace-setter Hamilton, with whom he ran nose-to-tail for some of the final day under the Spanish sun.

"I think Felipe and Fernando at the moment look [to be] the target," he opined. "They have been doing very well and things look good. I know the team, so I know there are good reasons to be happy. I'm not surprised.

"[McLaren] looked very strong too, no doubt, but then it depends on who is going to bring what to Bahrain. It's something we'll have to wait for to find out. We have some improvement, but is it much or is it not compared with what the others may or may not do? It's a puzzle that's difficult to read."


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