Michael Schumacher has contended that his first corner brush with Fernando Alonso in today's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne cost him the chance of potentially fighting for the podium - as Mercedes Grand Prix professed itself pleased with an improvement in performance and pace Down Under.

Schumacher is a four-time former winner around the streets of Albert Park, and a rain shower shortly before the start seemed to play even further into the hands of one of the sport's acknowledged all-time regenmeisters and a driver who tends to excel when the going gets treacherous.

However, this time around the 41-year-old F1 returnee was scarcely given the opportunity, after making an excellent start from seventh on the grid, only to then find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as the field concertina'd together into Turn One, with the coming-together between Alonso and Jenson Button pitching the Ferrari into a spin that clipped the Mercedes and detached its front wing, sending the Kerpen native across the grass.

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Having pitted for repairs under the immediate safety car period for the Kobayashi/Buemi/H?lkenberg contre-temps, Schumacher then set about fighting back from plum last, but found his progress frustratingly stymied by the likes of feisty rookie Lucas Di Grassi and Lotus ace Heikki Kovalainen, both of whom clearly took exception at being overtaken and passed the German legend straight back again.

The seven-time F1 World Champion subsequently spent far too many laps stuck behind the sole-surviving Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari, and after finally clearing the Spanish teenager - banging wheels as he did it - with barely a couple of laps remaining, he went on to rapidly hunt down and pass fellow veteran Pedro de la Rosa in the Sauber for the final marker in tenth. It could, he argued, have been rather better than that, and a fourth-fastest race lap - quicker than all three of the rostrum finishers - went to underline that conviction.

"[The race] was difficult," 'Schumi' reflected afterwards, "but it started very well. Everybody struggled at the start, but I actually got a pretty good one - I guess I was about third in the first corner until I got bumped off - and had I gone through this, there was no reason not to expect maybe even to finish third, because our pace was good [and] the car was handling good.

"Yesterday before qualifying we changed the car a little bit to look already for race pace - that compromised qualifying a bit, plus we had a visor stuck in our front wing. Both tacked together didn't allow us to qualify better than [seventh]; Nico [Rosberg - team-mate] and myself could have probably done [better].

"The pace is quite reasonable; we are not that far off. I could have had a good race, so it was a pity that I was hit right after the start. That incident decided my race obviously, but things like that happen and you have to just say 'that's racing'. I had to take the remainder of the race from last position, but I have to say that I was still having fun as our pace today was promising and for part of the race we were going quicker than the top group.

"[It was] an exciting race - we gave a bit of a better show [than in Bahrain] - and it was nice to pick up a point. We can take that good feeling into the next race where we will look forward to another challenge. It will be difficult [to take another step forward in Malaysia], because here we had a slight improvement on the car. I guess it's going to be difficult within a week to expect a real improvement, but we will make progress. I see a long season in front of us and we will do our best."

Rosberg, for his part, took the chequered flag a solid fifth Down Under, right on the tail of Schumacher's earlier nemesis Alonso having done energetic battle with Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Mercedes and the Red Bull Racing of former Williams team-mate Mark Webber along the way.

Like Schumacher, the younger German pitted again for a fresh set of boots midway through the grand prix, and come the end he had closed to within five seconds of runner-up Robert Kubica, setting the race's second-quickest lap time and taking advantage of the late coming-together between Hamilton and Webber to come away with eight points.

"Fifth place is a good result after a mixed-up race today," opined the 24-year-old, similarly fifth in the drivers' title standings. "I had a bad start in the wet, and after that we lacked pace and I struggled with the Option tyre. The rear degradation was pretty bad, so we decided to go for a second stop and get some fresh tyres to try to attack the group ahead.

"Even with the tyre advantage, it would have been difficult to pass once we caught up; therefore it was good to make up a couple of places when Mark and Lewis had an incident, so I'm pleased with that. We need to keep on taking the points whilst we improve the car, so overall it was a decent weekend."

Whilst Mercedes remains on out-and-out pace the slowest of the championship-challenging teams in F1 2010 - with McLaren's Australian progress having only served to exacerbate the situation - both the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Ross Brawn and the Stuttgart manufacturer's motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug insisted that there were many positives and reasons for encouragement to take away from the weekend.

"Nico did a very good job today and pushed hard to get fifth place," asserted Brawn. "He was in a reasonable position halfway through, but we began to get concerned about his tyres. He had lost a position to Lewis and it looked like Mark would get past, so we took the decision to bring him in. As expected with fresh tyres, he caught up with the pack towards the end and was able to take advantage of the ensuing incident with the cars ahead. Whether we gained from bringing him in or whether his original tyres could have held out is difficult to know.

"Michael had the first lap incident, which made his race very difficult thereafter and he did a very good job to keep at it and score a point. Overall, I'm pleased with how the team performed this weekend. We got the most out of the car but clearly need to find some more performance. It's not out of reach, and we have a lot to look forward to over the next few races. Congratulations to Jenson on a great performance and victory today."

"A very entertaining race and indeed probably one of the best ever," added Haug. "The rain and the various tyre strategies mixed up the field, and our drivers showed competitive speed. Better than fifth and tenth positions was possible, but Michael was a victim of Button and Alonso coming together in the first corner which required a stop and nose change. Michael stopped three times in total, so finishing in tenth position and in the points was the maximum that he could achieve after an excellent drive.

"Nico did a great job, finishing just over two seconds behind a podium position and in the same league with the fastest. Great job, Nico! We have scored points in all four starts and our speed in Melbourne was much better than in Bahrain.

"Congratulations to McLaren-Mercedes and to Jenson Button. Their early tyre change was followed by a great and measured drive from Jenson. This was the 69th victory for Mercedes-Benz since Melbourne 1997, and I hope soon we will have a jubilee. Looking to the next race in Malaysia, everybody in the team is very dedicated to catching up - and I am sure this will be achieved soon."