Having had to watch his rivals get to know their 2012 cars at the recent Jerez group session, Michael Schumacher is optimistic that he will be able to match their performance once he gets the new Mercedes on track in Barcelona.
The German got his first taste of the W03 a day ahead of its official launch, as Mercedes took advantage of its decision to contest just three days of the Jerez test and roll out the new car for a full day of running at the Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday [19 February].
Both Schumacher and team-mate Nico Rosberg got the chance to drive the car - which the younger German had shaken down during a 'filming day' at Silverstone two days previously - as the team racked up another 350km, and Schumacher revealed that he had been pleased by what he had found.
“I have done quite a few roll-outs and launches of new cars, but even after all these years, I must say it still feels special," the seven-time champion, who will drive on the opening day of the Barcelona group test, admitted, "Days like this are precious moments, as they are always filled with hope and anticipation and, already last week, when we were driving the F1 W03 for the very first time, it instantly gave us good feedback and sensations.
Starting today, we will work intensively to make it a competitive runner. Obviously, we will only see over the next couple of weeks how big the step is that we have made, but I can say already that the guys and girls back in the factories at Brackley and Brixworth were brilliant in putting in so much effort, and we can only say a big thank you them. I know which reward they would like, and we will definitely try to deliver it.
"For my part, I am eager to fight again, looking forward to the new season, and I can't wait for it to begin.”
Rosberg, meanwhile, will have to wait until later in the week before he can get back behind the wheel, but shared his team-mate positive outlook.
"We have had a good start to our 2012 testing programme, and it was a great feeling to drive the first laps in the new F1 W03," he commented, "The car looks good, and is very nicely packaged under the bodywork – all the parts are in harmony, which reflects how well the different departments of our team are working together.
"From the beginning of our running, we have been able to focus on understanding the car and making good progress with our test programme. It will be very interesting to learn more about where we stand in the next few weeks."
After four days in Barcelona this week, the teams will return to the Circuit de Catalunya for a similar period of time early next month, prior to the cars being freighted to Melbourne for the season-opener over 16-18 March.