Open question for Schumi
Seven-times Champion unsure whether he can make further progress
By Mike Wise at Hockenheim. Last Updated: 21/07/12 8:24pm
Michael Schumacher is unsure whether he can stay at the front of the field in Sunday's German Grand Prix, despite a strong performance in qualifying.
The seven-times World Champion lines up third on the grid at Hockenheim, with Schumacher having been bumped up a place after Mark Webber, who had set the third fastest time, picked up a gearbox penalty.
Schumacher made full use of his skill in wet conditions when heavy rain started falling in session two and set the second fastest time behind Lewis Hamilton.
It was a different story in Q2 for team-mate Nico Rosberg, however. He was slowest of all after struggling to warm his intermediate tyres up properly at the start of the session.
Schumacher also lined up third on the grid at the British Grand Prix after a wet qualifying session.
He subsequently struggled in the race but with similarly dry conditions forecast for Sunday, the 43-year-old nevertheless hopes for a better showing than was the case at Silverstone.
However, Schumacher, who finished seventh two weeks ago, said he could not speculate any further.
"I think it's obvious that in the wet conditions we look more strong than we do in the dry conditions. Although if you see certain pace in the dry, we don't look too unreasonable either," he said.
"So for tomorrow we will look better than what we have been looking at Silverstone, there is no doubt about this.
"Do we look good enough to keep our position, to look forward, or do we go backwards? An open question."
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Schumacher's equivocation might owe something to the lack of dry running seen so far this weekend.
Saturday morning's final practice session was the driest yet but track temperatures are expected to be warmer still for the race - a further step into the unknown for teams as they attempt to formulate strategies based on tyre degradation.
Schumacher was a fairly anonymous 15th fastest in FP3, although Mercedes concentrated on long-fuel runs during the session.
Team Principal Ross Brawn hoped that might help Mercedes, together with a concerted effort to increase the performance sweet spot on their W03 car.
"This will be a race of opposites - what we've experienced in practice and what we'll probably experience in the race. Trying to anticipate the balance we'll need for the race tomorrow is tricky," Brawn said.
"That's why we've been focusing for some time now in trying to widen the tolerance of the car - to bring a better range of balance to the car, so when these conditions change we don't get caught out so much.
"We didn't have that. We've got better but tomorrow will be another test of how much we've improved."
Rosberg, meanwhile, lines up 21st on the grid - his struggle in session two compounded by a five-place gearbox penalty.
"On the set that I had it was not working - there was no warm-up, it was just sliding all over the place," he said. "I was four seconds off the pace, there was just no way."