The team might have seen both of its cars end the opening day of practice for this weekend's F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir firmly ensconced inside the top three, but still defending world champions Mercedes Grand Prix insisted they are not the pace-setters heading towards qualifying in the searing heat of the desert kingdom.
A low-key eighth and tenth respectively in FP1 as the field bedded itself gently into the new season, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher leapt up the order in the afternoon session around the Bahrain International Circuit in the desert kingdom to annex first and third positions at the close.
Rosberg, indeed, was particularly impressive, as the young German remained unchallenged at the top of the timesheets for much of FP2, and wound up the best part of half a second clear of any of his pursuers after 38 laps behind the wheel of his MGP W01. A good start, he summarised, but still room for improvement.
“We improved the car over the course of the day,” the 24-year-old reflected, “but it didn't feel great initially with the new track, lower downforce and very sandy conditions this morning. We had a few balance issues to work on, but it came together very well this afternoon. There are areas where we can still improve, but we have a good comparison with the tyre compounds and on the long runs. Overall we learnt a great deal today, so it's a positive start to the weekend.”
Returning grand prix legend Schumacher, for his part, was just shy of five tenths of a second adrift of his compatriot in the final reckoning, and barely five hundredths short of making it a commanding Silver Arrows one-two. The seven-time F1 World Champion similarly found himself grappling with balance woes – but, ominously for his rivals, subsequently professed himself ready to get racing again.
“We worked very well this afternoon after having a few issues with the balance this morning,” reported the 41-year-old comeback king, who pulled off the hat-trick of pole position, fastest lap and race victory in Bahrain 's inaugural grand prix six years ago.
“The car felt much better in the second session, although I am still a little rusty on one-lap runs and need to get back into the routine. On the long runs, the car felt good and once you get into the rhythm, it feels very natural. I'm happy with our work today and feeling ready for the weekend.”
It was, indeed, an extremely positive start for the team considered to be the weakest of the four anticipated title protagonists in 2010 on the basis of pre-season testing. The Teutonic duo were able to get to grips with the circuit's revised, longer layout comprising eight new low-speed corners to accommodate the greater number of cars this year, before settling down to focus predominantly upon set-up work and tyre comparisons – but Ross Brawn is adamant that nobody should be getting carried away too soon.
“After the development and testing work over the winter months, it was good to see the cars in action here in Bahrain today,” affirmed the Brackley-based outfit's team principal. “We worked well to overcome some initial balance concerns which Nico and Michael experienced, and achieved some very valuable work this afternoon. I feel we still need to make some progress, so we need to wait and see how we will match up to our competitors when qualifying gets underway tomorrow.”
“The afternoon session went better than the first one this morning,” concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “We ran through our planned programme and the team, Nico and Michael got a good understanding of the two different tyre compounds. It looks like we are heading in the right direction, but it is definitely too early to say how everybody will perform in tomorrow's first qualifying session of the new season and on Sunday during the race. I expect very strong competitors.”