Michael Schumacher reflected that seventh position – somewhat appropriately, perhaps, the same position he achieved on his F1 debut almost 19 years ago – was roughly what could have been expected in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix today, but two spots ahead Nico Rosberg was disappointed to only be fifth.
Having generally given best to title rivals McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari during pre-season testing, paddock observers began to surmise that maybe, just maybe, Mercedes Grand Prix was closer than had been thought after featuring right up at the sharp end throughout practice in Sakhir, scene of this weekend's F1 2010 curtain-raiser in the desert kingdom.
However, after progressing safely through Q1 and Q2 – only just for Schumacher, in the latter case, by little over two tenths of a second – the Teutonic duo wound up fifth and seventh in the top ten shoot-out to determine final grid slots, following just a single run each on Bridgestone's softer compound 'Option' tyre and separated by just under three tenths of a second. Not bad, they conceded, but not quite what they might have hoped for either.
“To be honest, we were hoping for a bit more today,” conceded Rosberg, who confessed that prior to the session he had believed pole position – of which he fell more than a second short – was a genuine possibility. “We were lacking the pace to challenge right at the front, though, so I guess we should not be too disappointed.
“It was so difficult out there with the tyres overheating. If you made a small mistake and got oversteer, then you lost a lot of grip for the next few corners. It's going to be very important to look after the tyres tomorrow in the race. Overall it's a good start for me, and with a bit of luck we should be able to challenge for a podium place tomorrow.”
“I am satisfied with seventh place today having been away from Formula 1 for such a long time,” added Rosberg's older compatriot and seven-time world champion comeback king Schumacher. “By coincidence, it's the same grid position that I had when I started my career at Spa in 1991.
“It was fun to work with my new team, and I appreciate all their efforts to support me as I get back into the swing of things. The boys are really good, and I feel that we've improved step-by-step over the weekend. I'm looking forward to the race – and I expect even more to come.”
For the sport's reigning double world champions – in their erstwhile guise as Brawn GP – it was not a glorious way to begin the defence of their trophies, but equally the outcome represented a solid start, with the clear goal now to move forwards in the grand prix itself.
“It was a reasonable qualifying session today,” mused the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Ross Brawn, “although we had hoped for more after this morning's practice. The balance of the car suffered between practice and qualifying, possibly due to the increasing track temperatures, and we lost some pace as a result. Nico drove very well today in all sessions and Michael, taking part in his first qualifying session since 2006, is getting back into the rhythm as he gets more miles in the car.”
“Not a bad start to the first race weekend for Mercedes GP Petronas in achieving fifth and seventh positions in our first qualifying session,” concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “I think we looked stronger this morning – and it is our target to be better again during tomorrow's race.
“Nico has done a great job since lap one of the weekend and Michael, who is starting his first Formula 1 race after three-and-a-half years, is one place ahead of reigning world champion Jenson Button. The race tomorrow will be extremely tough for the drivers, the cars and their engines – and we hope to be well prepared for the battle.”