Michael Schumacher yesterday confessed that he didn't expect to be able to win races for Mercedes at the beginning of the season.
He has since had time to analyse the data from the testing mileage he has covered at Barcelona and is now happier with the position of the team.
As Nico Rosberg rose to the top of the timesheet on Saturday, AUTOSPORT heard Schumacher's thoughts on testing so far and the season ahead.
Q. Michael have you had the winter of testing and preparation that you had hoped to have?
Michael Schumacher: I think none of us have honestly, with the rain and the bad weather in Jerez. None of us has. And unfortunately today, again, we are losing very important track time. Although it might rain occasionally during the year, for the development of the car you would prefer to have consistent circumstances.
Q. How has the car evolved from Valencia to here?
MS: It's going forward. Obviously we have our plan for how we want to develop the car. The majority of the work this winter was to get the reliability. For the drivers to get together with the team, and understand how we maximise performance. And that has gone on very efficiently, we have very good guys in the team, it's a very relaxed atmosphere.
With Ross [Brawn] being up at the top it makes it even more easy. Now having Mercedes as a partner gives good support for the whole team and it is a good combination. Let's see how good it will be in the final result.
Q. Can you explain why you feel the car will be able to win in the early races of the season?
MS: There is two things. One I didn't just say this yesterday, I have said it from the beginning that we might not be in a position to win the first races and that is not really important. Because you have to win by the end of the season, not the beginning of the season.
And probably this could be the case, although I mentioned it yesterday after not having studied the data. This was just initial feeling, but it looks like maybe we were running more fuel than others yesterday and that's why the time didn't look so good. Looking at the results and the data, actually it looks very reasonable ? not too bad. So let's see where we are.
Q. Because of the weather problems do you think the car is still not completely evolved and therefore we will not see a clear picture in Bahrain?
MS: Possibly, yes.
Q. Do you feel you have had enough testing? Would you have liked to have had more?
MS: I think all of us would like to have more. If you give us 10 days we like 20 days, if you give us 20 we would want 40. It's always the same story.
Q. But for you personally it has been the first winter as driver since the introduction of these limits?
MS: This is true but honestly the analysis and the efficiency of how the team can operate with all the new technology that has developed in the last three years allows me to reduce test time quite a lot.
I don't think it is necessary to do as we did in 2005, almost 100,000km of testing ? which by the way didn't bring us almost anything. Here I don't know how many we have done, five maybe 10,000km, we have achieved much more.
Q. You look confident and happy in your head.
MS: Well let's see if I have a good reason for this.
Q. You are used to winning and having a car to win. If you do not win this year will you class that as a failure or do you see it as a three year programme?
MS: I see it first of all as a three-year programme and I see it secondly that it is important to see what happens by the end of the season and not by the beginning of the season. This is the two main important things.
If we are not in a position to win the first races I wouldn't worry at all. If we are two seconds off the pace, then okay maybe we will start to worry, but I don't think that is the case.
Q. Mentally and psychologically are you prepared for a title battle?
MS: I am here to fight for it yes, and I am sure we will be in the position. Whether will be able to achieve it is another matter.
Q. Do you feel like you did when you started in Formula 1, or do you feel totally different?
MS: No. Put it this way, initially testing and driving the car in Valencia put me exactly there as I restarted my career, but then I do have this experience and I am little bit advanced so naturally it is not exactly the same anymore it is different to a degree, but in a nice way.
Q. Mark Webber said that to him you are starting a second career, do you have this feeling or does it feel more like continuity?
MS: I don't know, I don't care honestly.
Q. You look very happy to be back, do you think happiness can help you go faster?
MS: I would think so. This is the secret of what we had in Ferrari, to make everybody happy and have the same sort of starting sensation here too. If everybody is happy they are happy to give 100 per cent, he is happy to fight, he is happy to do everything.
Q. Fernando Alonso looks happy too!
MS: Yes. They have been doing very good testing and things look good. I know the team so I know there are good reasons to be happy, they are very nice guys and very professional. I am not surprised.
Q. Is he the leading candidate to take the title do you think? Is he the front runner?
MS: I think Felipe and Fernando at the moment look the target yes.
Q. You have worked for many years with Ferrari, which is proud to be Italian. Do you feel the same sense of German pride here?
MS: Formula 1 is very international, and in this respect I don't know if it is fair to say whether you feel a specific country's spirit within the team. Because even in Ferrari, at the end of the day, it was very international. So you either have a good atmosphere in the team or you don't.
Here, yes, we have a very good atmosphere. Everybody is relaxed, everybody is motivated, and supportive. It is a big challenge. They have done a fantastic job last year and obviously they want to prove it was not a one-off and that it is a continuation. Particularly now, with Mercedes being on board, we want to improve as a team to Mercedes themselves.
Q. Are you worried about the performance of the new teams, are they like a mobile chicane all the time?
MS: Actually I think they are doing reasonably well. I have seen new teams come in to Formula 1 and be more than five or six seconds [away from the pace]. Now we are probably seeing [a gap of] two to three seconds. I think for teams that have started completely from scratch I think they are doing a very good job.
You mustn't forget that the level is so high, and so professional, to arrive straight away in this area you only look at it positively and not negatively.
Q. Do you think Q1 will now be a very busy 20 minutes, getting the lap times done?
MS: It will be busy yes. It will be for everybody.
Q. After three years away with your family and pursuing other interests, are you daunted at all getting back on the road with all the travelling and commitments and 19 races?
MS: The 19 races that I do this year is going to be much less travelling and days away from home than I used to do. I used to do the race, then I would be one or two days at home, then I would be testing for three or four days, then I would be home for a day, then I would be off again. This was much more regular than it is now.
Now you have 19 events but you can organise yourself very easily. I think in the end I have a better balance now than I did in the past. It is probably part of the reason why I feel happy to make a comeback.
Q. You say the car isn't as quick as you would like it to be at the start of the season, do you have every confidence that it will be by the end of the season? There are no doubts in your mind?
MS: Yesterday I was little bit pessimistic before I studied the data, afterwards it looks much more reasonable than I thought.
Q. Reasonable enough to win at the start of the year?
MS: Maybe, maybe not. But again it is not important. We have to be within fighting distance.
Q. In your mind who is at this moment the strongest team?
MS: I don't know who has played all their cards yet. Even with my experience I really struggle. There are several teams that look very competitive.
Q. With all the new rules about fuel, do you think strategy will be even more important this year?
MS: I think you had more scope in the past. Now you have less opportunities.
Q. To be world champion again, for you, would be a dream, a wish or a hope?
MS: It would be very nice? All three!