Michael Schumacher has played down expectations he or Nico Rosberg could put their 2012 Mercedes on pole in Malaysia.
“I think we will be somewhere near the top,” Rosberg is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “The race is more of a worry for us.”
Last weekend in Australia, the W03 was strong in qualifying but faded in the race as it ate through the Pirelli tyres. Mercedes insists it is working on the race pace problem, but the Brackley based team could shine even brighter in Sepang qualifying, with the innovative W-duct working particularly well on the long straights.
So could Schumacher secure his 69th pole on Saturday?
“That would be too optimistic,” said the 43-year-old German. “I think the battle for fifth place is the maximum.”
A really good qualifying for Mercedes, however, would be a problem for a team like Red Bull.
“With the (W-duct) system, the Mercedes will be very difficult to overtake,” Dr Helmut Marko told Bild newspaper.
It is believed the reigning champions, despite insisting the system is illegal, are hard at work on their own F-duct. But Marko admitted: “It is very difficult to recreate.”
Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn believes all the fuss about the W-duct is a ploy by teams like Red Bull.
“They are bombarding the FIA with questions about our technology in the hope of finding out the secret,” he said.