Michael Schumacher says he is hopeful that Mercedes will be able to fight for the top places after an improved showing in the final pre-season F1 test of the year.

After a difficult start to life with the new W02, Schumacher and team-mate Nico Rosberg enjoyed a more competitive week in Barcelona last week, with Schumacher posting the quickest time after five days of running at Catalunya.

The performance has increased expectations surrounding Mercedes going into the new season and Schumacher admitted that the team was going in the right direction as it seeks to improve on a disappointing 2010 campaign.

"We are going in the right direction. Definitely," he told the SID news agency. "We should be in a good position this year. But as to whether we already have a winning car - for this assessment I would like to first wait a few races.

"Anyway, with the car we will be able to fight for the top places, and that is good news. The team did a great job."

Schumacher failed to make it onto the podium last year in his first season out of retirement and while he admits that he didn't expect to be winning races again from the outset, the German conceded that it had taken him longer than he expected to get used to being back behind the wheel of an F1 machine.

"I never thought that I would come back after three years and everything would be as before," he said. "I am a realist in this respect. It is true that the re-acclimatisation has taken longer than I hoped, but I was always clear that it would be difficult and that there would be no guarantee of success. I am the type who is encouraged by challenges.

"We are talking about a highly complex, highly competitive and ever-changing sport - so you cannot expect that things will always run as desired. It is important to stay strong and keep concentrated on the work. We did that and I am convinced that Mercedes will become a Championship contender."



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