If Michael Schumacher thought that Mercedes' apparent return to form in the final group test of F1's pre-season would allow him to easily make it through to the final stage of qualifying after struggling to do so in 2010, he had a rude awakening in Melbourne.

Having safely negotiated the opening phase of the knock-out session - something that countryman Nick Heidfeld failed to do - the German flirted with the top ten next time around, only to be denied by the other Renault of Vitaly Petrov. An improvement from the Russian was enough to bump Schumacher out of tenth spot and, although the seven-time champion moved back up to eleventh, he failed to improve on his position with two flying laps at the end of Q2. In the end, despite relying on the softer option tyre throughout qualifying, just 0.089secs separated him from Sebastien Buemi and a place in the pole position shoot-out.

"Clearly, that was not an ideal start to the season, and I cannot deny that I am disappointed," Schumacher sighed, "It's not about [the fact] that KERS only worked intermittently, or that I could probably have made it to Q3, but it is because our performance did not turn out as we expected.

"From our testing experience, we were around the pace of Ferrari, but this did not translate today. We faced more problems here than at the test, with several issues throughout the whole weekend. We now have to look deeply into it to understand why it turned out to be like this because, for the moment, we are not where we wanted to be."

Team-mate Nico Rosberg upheld Mercedes' honour by making it through to the final phase of qualifying, but the younger German was not entirely happy with his run, which left him on the inside of row four and nearly two seconds off Sebastian Vettel's pole-winning pace.

Like Schumacher, Rosberg used only the softer Pirelli compound, meaning that both drivers have three sets of the supposedly more durable 'primes' in reserve for the race on Sunday, but blamed a slight mistake on his quickest lap, locking the front wheel braking into the first corner, for restricting him to P7.

"I'm disappointed as, when I went to bed last night, I was hopeful of a good qualifying performance," he admitted, "In the morning, a few things didn't work on my car, but the team did a good job and almost all of the systems were working for qualifying, so we need to find out what happened.

"I did make a small mistake in Q3, which possibly cost me a place, but it hasn't quite come together for us this weekend. One good thing is that I will start on the clean side of the grid, and we will do our best to score some good points tomorrow."

"Without doubt, today was quite a disappointing qualifying session for the team," team principal Ross Brawn conceded, "We expected to be more competitive, but we haven't got the car working as well as we had hoped today. The fundamentals are good, but we've had rather too many challenges this weekend to be able to get the most out of it. We are in good shape for the race tomorrow in terms of tyre availability and the car looked pretty reasonable on the longer runs, so let's wait and see what happens."