Michael Schumacher continues to be optimistic about Mercedes GP's chances of joining Ferrari, Renault and McLaren in the pursuit of Red Bull at the front of the F1 field, despite the Brackley team suffering another disappointing start to the season
The seven-time champion heads to the first of this season's back-to-back races, at the Chinese Grand Prix, just seven days after opening his 2011 account with ninth place in Malaysia, and insists that he is ready to tackle the team's problems head-on. In a continuation of his 2010 woes, Schumacher failed to make the top ten in qualifying at either of the first two races - although his adjustable rear wing may have played a part at Sepang - and has just two points to his name after a clash with Jaime Alguersuari led to a damage-inspired DNF in Melbourne.
After a brief fillip at the final test of the winter, when Mercedes appeared to have closed the significant time gap to the pacesetters, Schumacher and team-mate Nico Rosberg have failed to match the performance of Renault and Ferrari, let alone the McLaren and Red Bull squads which have dominated proceedings so far, and remain unlikely to do so until F1 returns from its traditional early-season 'flyaways', but Schumacher remains upbeat heading to China.
"I am, of course, looking forward to racing in Shanghai as challenges fire me up as much as everybody else in our team," the veteran claimed, "We know that we have little time to build after the race in Malaysia, but we are learning with every lap that we race, so we are heading there with an open mind and full of ambition to do better than in the opening races. We know that our fans in China are very enthusiastic and really get behind us, so we will definitely try to put on a good show for them."
Rosberg, despite twice making the final phase of qualifying, has yet to score in 2011, having retired in Australia and suffered from a poor start in Malaysia that resulted in twelfth place, but is hoping that his affinity with the Shanghai International Circuit will see an upturn in fortune.
"The circuit is an enjoyable challenge and I have good memories from the race last year, when I finished on the podium in third place," he remarked, "Our start to the season this year has been tougher, but I'm looking forward to turning the wheel in a more positive direction this weekend.
"I like driving this track and have been pretty quick here in the past. We could have qualified higher in Malaysia, so we know that more performance is there when every system is operating correctly on the car. Hopefully we can improve further and make that happen in China. We are working on it very hard."
Mercedes' Norbert Haug appears less optimistic, meanwhile, accepting that a handful of points would be considered a success before the team can set to work on uprating its WO2 for the start of the European campaign.
"This weekend's grand prix is the second race in eight days and a logistical challenge for all of the teams," he pointed out, "The circuit characteristics in Shanghai are also different to Sepang - there were more fast corners in Sepang, and Shanghai requires good braking stability, traction and straight-line speed, while temperatures are expected to be below 20 degrees, roughly half the level we experienced last weekend in Malaysia.
"We are expecting a difficult and challenging weekend for our team, like we had in Malaysia, where a finish in the lower part of the points rankings was the best that was achievable with our current technical package. However, our lap times in the later part of the race looked better relative to the competition than they had on Friday and Saturday. In China, we wish to continue to improve before we can make further necessary steps with our technical package during the three weeks before the start of the European season."