Record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher has defended both his and Mercedes Grand Prix's form in last weekend's Australian Grand Prix, insisting the performance of drivers and team alike was a lot better than the end result might have led to believe.
Schumacher took the chequered flag a low-key and unaccustomed tenth Down Under – more than a minute behind race-winner Jenson Button – having been forced to pit for a new nosecone at the end of the opening lap due to damage caused when the spinning Ferrari of fellow title-winner Fernando Alonso was pitched into him at the start. That left the German legend plum last and with much work to do – but on the basis of his previous charges up through the order, the anticipation was that fans were in for a master class.
What was delivered, unfortunately, was rather more of a damp squib, as 'Schumi' found himself embroiled in battles with Heikki Kovalainen and Lucas Di Grassi for tail-end minnows Lotus and Virgin respectively – with both displaying the brazen audacity to re-pass the most successful driver in F1 history once they had been overtaken – and then spent far too many laps stuck behind the slower Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari, only clearing the Spanish teenager two laps from home before going on to deprive Sauber veteran Pedro de la Rosa of the final marker on the very last lap.
However, a compromised qualifying effort and the difficulty of overtaking, the 41-year-old insisted, masked Mercedes' true form around Albert Park – as he and team-mate Nico Rosberg set respectively the fourth and second-quickest lap times of the grand prix – and heading now to Malaysia this coming weekend, Schumacher is adamant that despite being outperformed by his young compatriot in both Bahrain and Australia, he is far from out of contention.
“I have taken a lot of positives from the race weekend in Melbourne,” he affirmed. “Whilst it might not be evident at first sight, when you look into the weekend more deeply, we did make some real improvements and have good reasons to be satisfied – just not from the actual result obviously.
“Analysing qualifying, both Nico and I could have been two or three places higher and with hindsight, my set-up was too conservative and too much focused on the race – plus I had a tear-off strip stuck in my front wing, which also cost me some time. Those better positions would have enabled us to fight closer to the front on Sunday and fight for the podium.
“All of this means that we are not too far away, and I am quite confident that there will be more to come. Going to Malaysia this weekend, we know that we have clearly improved our pace since Bahrain, which is a good feeling. It was a lot of fun fighting it out on the track in Melbourne, even if it was just for one point, and I will enjoy fighting again in Sepang.”
Rosberg, indeed, did rather more fighting than Schumacher Down Under, in particular with McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton and former Williams team-mate Mark Webber in the Red Bull Racing. The 24-year-old would likely have finished behind both in seventh had they not come together in the closing stages, and the resultant fifth place leaves the highly-rated son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg in the same spot in the title standings approaching Sepang – and in optimistic frame of mind.
“Malaysia is one of my favourite circuits on the Formula 1 calendar,” Rosberg enthused of the track where he stunned seasoned observers by qualifying a superb third in only his second-ever grand prix back in 2006 – co-incidentally just ahead of his current team-mate – and led the first 15 laps in 2009, though he has only ever scored half a point there, in the rain-shortened edition last year. “It's fast and challenging with a nice layout and a real variation of corners, which makes Sepang an exciting track to drive.