LONdon, June 1, 2012 (AFP) - In-form German Nico Rosberg and his Mercedes team are confident of a strong showing in Canada next weekend - when a revived Michael Schumacher could also be a major threat.
The 43-year-old seven-times champion showed his renewed appetite for success and his speed when he clocked the fastest time in qualifying at last
weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
He lost pole when he was handed a five-places grid penalty, but that did little to dilute the message that, on his day, he remains capable of being the
fastest man on the track - and a return to one of his favourite circuits in Montreal could see him back at the front.
Schumacher has claimed an amazing record of seven victories at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and always managed to demonstrate a knack of finding the
right balance and speed on a track that mixes the characteristics of a classic street track with a few from elsewhere.
But if Schumacher cannot shine, do not be surprised if his young team-mate Rosberg dazzles on the day - he is the highest-scoring driver since the
Grand Prix and is clearly the most consistent.In the last four races he is the only driver to have started on the front row more than once and, more significantly, he has cut a 35-point deficit to championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, after the Malaysian race, to just 17 points.
"Making predictions does not make us quicker, so we need to focus and work on it, but the general trend seems to be the right one," said Mercedes Benz
motorsport boss Norbert Haug this week.
"There will be ups and downs, but I think our curve is generally going up after a third of the season. This is not 'hurray, hurray, we can celebrate', it is just comparing last year to this year."
Haug said that his team learned major lessons about the tyres after the opening races as Mercedes' drivers overheated their rubber in Australia and
then could not generate enough heat in the Pirellis in Malaysia.
And while Haug and Mercedes believe they can sense an upward swing in performance, so also have the fiercest critics of Schumacher's comeback had to ease off.
That has pleased one of his current rivals, Jenson Button of McLaren, who believes people have failed to understand how difficult it is to regain
competitiveness in Formula One.
He said: "Michael's come in for a lot of criticism over the last couple of years since he's been back. I think we all forget what he achieved in his previous career, if you want to call it that.
"Sometimes it takes time to feel comfortable with a car and comfortable with the people you're working with, but I think he put a great lap together in Monaco, didn't make any mistakes and he obviously deserved it very much. It proved a few things too didn't it?"
Schumacher returned in 2010 season after an absence of three years, but has struggled to repeat the form that took him to a record 91 wins.
He has been criticised too this year because he has scored just two points to team-mate Nico Rosberg's 59.