A bullish Michael Schumacher believes that Mercedes GP’s heavily-revised W02 contender could be the favourite car to challenge the seemingly-dominant Red Bull team at the sharp end of the grid, with today’s comments coming in the wake of the team’s impressive form shown in the final stages of pre-season testing.
The W02 had initially looked to be well short of the mark in the early stages of the four test sessions in Spain, but an aggressive series of updates has brought the team right back into contention.
Speaking with members of the press at the Albert Park paddock today, the seven-time World Champion seemed upbeat as he predicted the silver cars’ prospects for the 2011 season, which will see no less that five World Champions on the grid
“Mercedes has done a huge step forward with this year’s car, it is a very performance-orientated car and it has paid out,” he is quoted as saying.
“This weekend it is up to us to prove it, and we have a good opportunity to prove good things. Nevertheless we should not overestimate things, and see the truth – and that is that Red Bull Racing is most likely the team to be beaten.
“I think we are going to play an important role just behind that. And whoever is behind that group, I see Ferrari, Renault look good, Williams look good, McLaren is not to be forgotten because I expect them to be stronger than they were in testing, and us – this is the pack that I see a good opportunity that we might be able to fight for that position to be the second fastest.”
But the German would not be drawn into predicting he could fight for an eighth World Championship crown this season, although he seemed more confident about the prospects of podium finishes and the occasional race win.
“Our target and our realistic possibility would be to fight for podiums and if things go very well then maybe to win a race,” he added. “Does this put us in a position to fight for the championship? No.
“To be on the podium would be great, but does it really change anything? No. What does change is if we can achieve our target to win a championship together with Mercedes. That is what I want to achieve and that is what I am here for and that is what we are fighting really hard for.”
Last year marked the first full season in the German’s entire F1 career where he had failed to net himself a podium finish.
[Original image via Sutton Images]