You didn't need a timing monitor - the car's body language told its own tale. From the start of the opening free practice session, Michael Schumacher was hopping over kerbs and attacking the Circuit de Catalunya's contours with trademark aggression. He looked quick, period. Such natural confidence has been distinctly absent since the German returned to Formula One at the start of the season, but Friday morning heralded its restoration.
For the first time this year he has outpaced teammate Nico Rosberg and will start sixth on the grid today. Like all teams, Mercedes GP have made a raft of changes to its car since the previous race - notably a lengthened wheelbase, to improve weight distribution, some aerodynamic upgrades and an enhanced braking system. Team principal Ross Brawn denies, however, that these were implemented specifically for Schumacher's benefit.
"The revisions were in no way focused towards one driver," Brawn said. "They are a consequence of consistent feedback we'd been getting from both of them." Schumacher, who has a fresh chassis this weekend, as well as the update package, admits he feels happier with the revised MGP W01. "I'm not pleased to be more than a second away from the Red Bulls," he said, "but I feel more at one with the car than I did. Qualifying was quite straightforward, in my view.
"We had a good car yesterday, with an ideal balance, but it was not perfect today. Little things can trigger a change and whatever happened today caused us to fall down a little. I feel a lot more comfortable driving the car as it is now, but there is a maximum you can get out of it and we achieved that today." Brawn felt gusty conditions were probably to blame for the slight performance drop-off. Schumacher's chassis was changed because it was felt that damage sustained during the first few races was having a deleterious effect. Brawn feels the German's below-par showing in Shanghai was a by-product of that, a one-off, and that his improved form this weekend should be taken in the context of the first three races.
"It was wholly unreasonable for people to expect Michael to come in and perform after three years away," he said. "He had to get used to new cars, new tyres and new regulations, but didn't have much chance to test. What we have seen today is a logical continuation of the progress we saw after the first three races and I believe China was simply a blip. "Nico had some understeer problems today, but from now on I expect to see him and Michael trading places from race to race, It's our job to make sure they do so from nearer the front of the grid."