Michael Schumacher believes Mercedes GP can now head to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in a "reasonably strong" position after an encouraging first day of testing for its new upgrade package on Friday.
With the squad having finally fitted its much-heralded update package to the W02 for the first time at Barcelona, Schumacher showed a glimpse of its potential as he set the fastest time of winter testing at the track so far during a qualifying simulation run. Although different programs for Formula 1's frontrunners meant rivals Red Bull Racing and Ferrari may not have shown their full potential against Schumacher's effort, the fact that the seven-time champion was able to deliver such a solid step forward was encouraging for the team.
Schumacher himself certainly seemed upbeat about the steps that Mercedes GP had delivered so far this week, with the new front wing and turning vanes being added to the revised floor and exhaust solutions that have been on the car since the start of the week. Despite Schumacher conceding that the true form of the teams at the front of the field would only become clear in Melbourne, there was a hint of genuine enthusiasm about what Mercedes GP has pulled together.
"We have been developing the car step by step," Schumacher said at the end of the day's testing. "The main issue we had here at the test was trying to find the right balance, and optimising the car performance.
"It has worked pretty well, so we are looking forward to going to Australia to be in a reasonably strong position. I am not sure everyone has opened their cards completely yet but that is something to be seen in Australia."
Despite its single-lap pace looking encouraging, the ultimate form of Mercedes GP would have become clearer with a longer race simulation run – something the team did not complete. Although there is a hope that Mercedes GP may be able to get through one on its final day of running on Saturday, predicted rain could spoil those chances. It was the threatened change in weather that meant the team gave Nico Rosberg a few hours running with the new package in dry conditions on Friday afternoon.
When asked if he had seen enough to already feel confident in the Mercedes GP package, Schumacher said: "All I can say that we have seen today here that our package seems to work reasonably well, but has everyone shown their true potential? That is something that we will find out in Australia."
Mercedes will run alongside Ferrari, Williams, HRT and McLaren on the final day of preseason testing at Barcelona on Saturday.