Despite storming to the top of the timesheets during the second day of winter testing at Jerez, Michael Schumacher remains cautious over his Mercedes squad's prospects for the coming season.

Schumacher posted a time of 1min 18.561secs during the second morning's running at the Spanish circuit, putting himself just over six tenths of a second clear of Red Bull's Mark Webber, who debuted the all-new RB8 over the past couple of days.

Mercedes, other than HRT the only the team to be running a 2011-spec machine, is using this segment of winter testing purely to evaluate the revamped Pirelli tyre in a bid to gain a march on the rest of the field, but the familiarity allowed Schumacher to record the fastest time of the pre-season so far.

Despite that, the 43-year old remained realistic when asked about his title chances, aware that Mercedes' decision to delay the arrival of its 2012 car had pros and cons of its own. The veteran maintained that an eighth title is still way over the horizon given the position the team finds itself in following another lacklustre season in 2011, but still has faith that his team will one day return to the top.

"I don't think we can realistically achieve a championship car immediately from where we started last year, we have to build our way there," Schumacher admitted to journalists during a break in testing, "I am confident we can do that, but let's take it step by step. We work longer on our car, but if this was the only secret [to success], we should have shown all the cars later."

Nonetheless, the seven-time world champion conceded that the information being gathered on the new tyres would be nothing but helpful, while hinting the innovated structure of the new compounds is more to his liking than last year's offering from Pirelli.

"Our programme is done in a way we believe in," he continued, "We did some very good work with the new tyres, which are certainly much better for a driver - they are more consistent and a lot closer to what you would expect from an F1 tyre.

"Understanding those tyres was our main focus and we had a programme we did pretty well with."

Even though he was quick to play down his chancees of ultimate success this season, Schumacher hinted at prolonging his return to the top flight if he believed that Mercedes was moving in the right direction.

"Absolutely," he smiled, "I'm still around to fight for the championship. Whether we can or cannot do that is something to be proven this year - or whenever."

by Simon Evans

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