Michael Schumacher is hopeful that he and teammate Nico Rosberg will be in a position to fight for race wins this season after getting a glimpse of Mercedes GP's true potential in the final test last week.
The team's decision to hold back on a final update package until the Barcelona test meant its form was hard to predict, but a major overhaul of the W02 that helped Schumacher top the times on the final dry day of running has lifted hopes on the eve of the campaign. Although Schumacher thinks that the full picture of the team's competitiveness will only become clear in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, he says he has already seen enough to be confident about a successful 2011 campaign.
"My feeling is a good one," he said. "The team has been working very hard over the winter to shape our car in all of the areas which had been identified by us as needing improvement.
"The data I have seen over the winter had been quite encouraging, but then we all know that the realities of data and the racetrack can be quite different. As a driver, you obviously hope for a good step forward and I think this is what we have achieved.
"I am confident that we can compete for podium finishes, and I am hopeful we can fight for victories at some of the races. Saying that, we will only see the truth once the season gets under way, so I can hardly wait to go to Melbourne to finally see what the real picture is."
As well as progress on the car front, Schumacher believes he will also do a better job in the cockpit after a sometimes difficult 2010 return.
"This year feels very different indeed," he said. "Last year everything was new again; the testing situation, the car, the team, the structures. It was very exciting but it was still something you had to find your way through.
"Now, one year later, I know much better which areas to work in. I am much more familiar with the team and we have a great group of very skilled and dedicated people. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with Mercedes, and I have never regretted my decision to return...if that is what you wanted to ask next!"
Rosberg is equally bullish about the progress that Mercedes GP has made, and was not ruling out the W02 helping him secure his maiden F1 victory.
"We've made good progress over the four tests. It's perhaps been a more difficult winter than we expected but everyone has worked really hard and pushed on with the new upgrades so that we have the car that we want for the start of the season," he said.
"We haven't got the fastest car yet but we are going in the right direction. The handling is better, the car has more grip, and is generally more fun to drive.
He added: "We are certainly looking much better this year and our main target is to improve on our performances from last year. We have a good platform to do that."