Michael Schumacher has praised the "great job" that his Mercedes GP team has done with its car ahead of the season, although he wants to wait a few races to see if it is capable of fighting for regular victories.
Mercedes GP bounced back from troubled early testing form to deliver a major step forward with its final race update in Barcelona last week, as Schumacher helped the team top the times during a qualifying simulation run that surprised some rivals with its speed. Although Schumacher is keeping his cards close to his chest about just how competitive he thinks the W02 is, he is already eying a more competitive performance from the team than it delivered last year.
"We are going in the right direction, definitely," Schumacher said in an interview with German news agency SID on Tuesday. "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."
Although Schumacher's return to F1 did not deliver on the huge hype surrounding it, the seven-time champion says he is still fired up by the challenge of making a success of his return.
"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-acclimatization 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."
He added: "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."
Despite his feeling on Mercedes GP's competitiveness, he is certain that it is Sebastian Vettel who starts the year as the favorite to repeat as World Champion.
"Red Bull looks very strong, and therefore, Sebastian is a favorite going into the season," Schumacher declared.