Mar.18 (Reuters) Michael Schumacher’s hopes of a first F1 podium since 2006 ended abruptly on the 11th lap of the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday but the seven times champion remained confident the new season would be better than the last two years.
Two positive pre-season tests in Barcelona had indicated that the sport’s most successful driver, winner of a record 91 races, and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg might be contenders this year.
In the end, the younger German also failed to snare a point after finishing 12th.
Schumacher, who retired from Ferrari in 2006 and began his comeback with Mercedes in 2010, showed with a strong qualifying performance that the car is competitive.
Rosberg’s blistering start to the race, when he moved up from seventh to fourth, further bolstered that feeling.
“It was especially unfortunate as we have not had this problem during the winter tests and were very reliable,” said Schumacher, now 43, who was running third when he had a gearbox problem going into a corner and had to run onto the grass.
“This is why I am not concerned, as I know things like this happen in racing, and our reliability is not in question. I can still take some positives out of the weekend, as we have seen our car was confirming our feelings, and is definitely a clear step forward.”
Team boss Ross Brawn, who led his eponymous team to the 2009 world title before they were bought by Mercedes, blamed tyre problems for the disappointing race but also felt that the pre-season optimism had not been misplaced.
“We remain positive as both here and over the winter tests, we have demonstrated that we have a fundamentally quick car and we have a lot to build on,” he said. “So we need to look at what happened today, unravel the problem and work out where we need to improve.”
Rosberg, seventh in the championship last year and a spot ahead of Schumacher, suffered a puncture when he made contact with Sauber’s Sergio Perez late in the race which knocked him out of the top 10.
The 26-year-old also said, however, that he had been unable to maintain the pace evident in the early laps of the race and was looking forward to an improvement ahead of the second round of the championship at Sepang next week.
“We have a lot of work to do to understand what went wrong, and how we can use the full potential which our car definitely shows,” he said.
“I’m still positive as Malaysia is a completely different track so I’m looking ahead to next weekend now.”