Niki Lauda has said that Michael Schumacher's return to F1 in Bahrain was 'a perfect performance', with the three-time champion insisting it will take the German driver time to get fully up to speed.
In his first F1 race since retiring from the sport at the end of the 2006 season, Schumacher qualified seventh on the grid at Sakhir and took sixth place on his debut for Mercedes.
Speaking to the official F1 website, Lauda – who launched his own F1 comeback after initially retiring in 1979 – insisted that Schumacher was correct to be happy with his performance considering his time away from the sport, and said he felt the seven-time title winner would be fully up to speed by the time the paddock arrives in Malaysia for the third round of the year.
“It was a perfect performance,” Lauda said. “You can hardly start any better. He ran very little over the winter, due to test restrictions, and got into a modified car he had never driven before, so it was simply impossible for him to clock a qualification lap at the push of a button.
“I'd suppose he needs about three races to get back up to the same level he was at. When you take all that into account, he did a superb qualification lap, even compared to Nico who was only three-tenths faster. My guess is that in Kuala Lumpur he will have regained that ability to switch on for a fast lap that every permanent driver has to have.”
While impressed with Schumacher's return – and the performance of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso – Lauda wasn't as positive in his assessment of the new teams to have debuted in Bahrain.
“The only benefit of the new teams is that the grid looks more impressive on TV and you have the benefit of beating more cars when you win,” he said. “I am not the right person to ask as I hardly look at them - I am only interested in the top teams. The gap suggests that somebody should pull them up and get them to develop faster.”