SAKHIR // Despite how it may have appeared in recent weeks, Formula One's most in-demand race team, Mercedes GP, are not a one-man outfit. Michael Schumacher, returning to the sport he dominated following a three-year absence, has understandably hoarded the headlines for himself. But the German's compatriot and teammate, Nico Rosberg, is confident he can match the seven-time world champion - and suggested yesterday that he may even be able to eclipse his idol.
Rosberg, born 170 kilometres from Schumacher's birthplace in Hurth, joined the renamed BrawnGP race team from Williams at the end of last year and goes into this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix fuelled by his own strong performance in pre-season testing. "Your closest comparison is your teammate, so my aim this year is to look good compared to him," said the 24-year-old, who finished the final testing session in Barcelona last month marginally faster than Schumacher.
"I'm going into the season very optimistically. I feel very, very comfortable in the car, very confident. "But at the same time I know it's going to be as difficult as ever, because obviously I have a rather strong teammate. So we'll have to wait and see." Describing Schumacher as "very strong" is a bit of an understatement to say the least. The 41-year-old is one of the most decorated men in motor sport, competing in 250 races and finishing first 91 times, including the first staging of the Bahrain race in 2004.
But Rosberg says, while he will learn from his teammate's experience, he is not competing simply to make up the numbers. "For sure I have a lot to gain this year, because it's the first time I have a very competitive car," he said. "I look forward to it; to get some really strong results this year [and] to be on a level playing field with Michael." Three new teams have registered to race this season, while several rules have changed since Schumacher's last race - Sao Paulo in 2006 - including, most recently, a prohibition of refuelling and a newly implemented points system.
The result is, according to Renault's new recruit, Robert Kubica, a season-opening event where nothing is guaranteed. "Last year you could predict when everyone would stop, but this year, during the race, it will be much more difficult to predict and there will be a lot more strategy going into the race from the team side. "But you cannot predict anything; everything will be decided at the very last moment," said the 25-year-old Polish driver, who arrived late in Bahrain after missing his flight and being forced to fly via Dubai.