Felipe Massa has admitted that he hopes Williams can still be a force in Bahrain after seeing rivals make big steps since pre-season testing.

The Brazilian set the fastest time across the two four-day sessions held in Sakhir ahead of the Australian Grand Prix but, with two races under their belts, the F1 field has taken on a slightly altered shape in the past six weeks.

While Williams, with its new Mercedes power, is still enjoying better fortune than it did in 2013, Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas now have to cope with a couple of major F1 powers which were suffering in testing.

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"Ferrari is definitely stronger here than in testing, and Red Bull is definitely stronger here than it was in testing," he observed, having seen both teams battling for points and podiums in Australia and Malaysia, "McLaren is there in the fight as well so, for sure, we saw that some teams have improved. I hope that we can be in there fighting and I'm looking forward to it."

The Brazilian was conspicuous by his absence for much of the opening day at Bahrain International Circuit, as Williams opted to keep its powder dry - and its delicate mechanical components both cool and unstressed - in the desert heat.

Despite running FP2 under the cover of darkness, Massa - who had sat out a lot of the opening session - and Bottas - who missed FP1 entirely to allow reserve Felipe Nasr a run - were made to wait until the final third of the session before making an appearance. That they wound up fifth and eleventh respectively hinted at better things to come for Williams later in the weekend, and Massa sounded confident as he addressed the media after the session.

"We ran at the end and it was okay," he confirmed, "I think it gave a good understanding of where we are. Definitely, the car showed a little better pace here compared to the last race [in Malaysia], so I hope this can be our direction and that we can see it tomorrow also."

Massa, like the rest of the F1 paddock, was buoyed before track action got underway by positive news regarding Michael Schumacher's condition.

"I really hope we have positive news all the time," he commented, "I pray for him every day and want to see him back here. I'm definitely looking forward to that and hope the best for him and the family, and also for the doctors taking care of him. I think it's getting better and better all the time so that's my hope."