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Schuey shows his class but testing times for Rosberg

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Sarah Holt | 10:51 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa may have clocked the two fastest times on the opening day of winter testing in Valencia, but Michael Schumacher stole all the headlines.

The 41-year-old German had already grabbed a large chunk of attention by making everyone get up early to witness him peel back the tarpaulin on the new Mercedes.

During this fleeting public appearance, he said not a single word, bestowing the crowd with a handful of flashing smiles but leaving them wanting more.

And it was a long wait. It wasn't until 1530, local time here in Spain, that the seven-time world champion returned to the track in an up-to-date Formula 1 car, three years after he had waved goodbye to it all with Ferrari.

And just to make sure there was no chance of missing him, he blitzed down the pit lane wearing a brilliant orange helmet.

Schumacher poses for the camerasSchumacher poses for the cameras

A rapid 40 laps followed, during which he recorded the third fastest time of the day, clocking one minute 12.947 seconds on his 33rd spin around the Ricardo Tormo circuit.

For the record, Massa topped the times at the end of both the morning and afternoon sessions, with a best lap in the dying minutes of the day of 1:12.574. De la Rosa's best was a 1:12.784.

Afterwards, Schumacher strolled around to give his own assessment of his return in a quick-fire media melee. He stood with his hands in his pockets, his face etched with red lines from where his helmet had been, but not a single bead of sweat on his brow.

"In a way, it's like 1991 when I came into Formula 1," he mused. "I was shocked during the first lap and I was extremely excited during the second. I feel very good. I worked out well and prepared myself extremely precisely."

Just before Schumacher spoke to the pressing throng, his new team-mate, Nico Rosberg, had snuck back into his motorhome. The 24-year-old had been for a training run after completing 39 laps in the morning and must have been wondering just what he has to do to keep up with his eminent and much older team-mate.

Rosberg's fastest time of the day in his first run for Mercedes was 1:13.543, fourth fastest overall and 0.596 seconds adrift of his countryman.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was quick to defend the youngster, insisting Schumacher did not merit all the headlines. "Nico's performance was clouded," said Brawn. I don't think it was representative."

He revealed Rosberg had been struggling with his seat and that its height had affected his vision going into certain corners. It also emerged that Rosberg had been charged with running through Mercedes' reliability tests to establish a good baseline for the team's data and so had been given less opportunity to set fast laps.

On top of that, he had done the bulk of his running in the morning, when the track was still "green". Times subsequently showed that the circuit did improve as the day wore on.

Taking those factors into account, Mercedes were left with little to split their two drivers on day one.

However, there was one key difference between Schumacher and the rest of the field. Sector times showed that he had operated close to his full potential and could have extracted only 0.009 seconds of extra pace out of his car per lap. In comparison, Massa could have eked out a further 0.163 seconds, and Rosberg an extra 0.127.

It is this ability to squeeze the most out of his car that makes Schumacher special - and is an ability trait that only Fernando Alonso and, perhaps, Lewis Hamilton can match.

"Michael is very precise in describing what he wants and what is needed," said Brawn, who has helped guide Schumacher to each of his world titles.

"At the moment, he is happy with the car and hasn't pinpointed any areas he needs us to work on. Michael was very enthusiastic and it was confirmation of what we both thought - that he would be competitive.

"One thing that came through was his precision in his car and his clarity of reason. It was a bit like the old days."

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