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.
Having pitted for repairs under the immediate safety car period for the Kobayashi/Buemi/Hülkenberg 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.”