A little longer wheel base and Schumacher’s back (right?)

Although Michael Schumacher’s quotes following today’s Spanish GP practice sessions are pretty measured, let me push Todd out of the way and trump his reaction:

He’s back! He’s back! Woo-hoo!

OK. Joking aside (it’s really Grace who’s excited about Schumacher’s returning to form), it is hard to ignore Michael’s solid and consistent finishes today. Third place in both sessions, just barely off Jenson Button in the morning and solidly third in the afternoon, when everyone was well behind the two Red Bulls.

Of course, this is just practice, but it also is the first sign of real speed we’ve seen from the seven-time champ in a long time. Heck, maybe it’s the first sign since he returned. He more or less averaged a half-second quicker than Nico Rosberg.

I think the quotes from Mercedes are pretty priceless following these results today. To sum them up: Again, Michael’s very low-key; Nico’s apparently gotten used to be at the front on Fridays (that took all of four races, huh?); Ross Brawn is magnificent and shows almost none of his hand; and leave it to Norbert Haug basically to proclaim: The Schumacher we paid all that money to is finally here!

The Mercedes quotes are here. In order, Michael, Nico, Ross and Norbert:

Michael: “Today I felt much more comfortable in the car and feel that it is behaving more consistently. In my view, our upgrade is a step forward but we have to wait and see how big the step is as the other teams have obviously improved as well. Now we have to deeply analyse the data to get a better overview on the actual situation and as usual after the Friday practice sessions, it is difficult to estimate where you actually are in comparison to our competitors. We will only have the real picture after qualifying tomorrow.”

Nico: “It was a challenging day for me today and not where I usually end up after the Friday practice sessions. There are no obvious issues on the aero package but we went wrong on the set-up whilst trying something new. I am confident that we will make progress overnight and tomorrow we will be able to extract the full potential from the car.”

Ross: “We had a reasonable day and covered a great deal of work to gather all of the set-up information that we needed with our upgrade package. Michael and Nico followed different programmes and therefore this evening we need to bring all of the data together and decide how we run the cars tomorrow. The new developments performed pretty much as we expected however all of the teams have moved forward here and the target is constantly moving. It looks like we have kept up but we still have to find more pace to compete right at the front.”

Norbert: “Our upgrade package for the start of the European season seems to work as anticipated and it was visible on track and on the timing sheets that Michael was quicker and felt more comfortable today than at the last race in China three weeks ago. Nico was less happy with his car today but the data after the session shows where we went in the wrong direction with the set-up so Nico should be back tomorrow to the strength that he showed in the previous four races. Our pace during the race simulations didn’t look too bad but there is definitely still quite a gap to the quickest cars. We will work hard to make another step tomorrow. Today it is not possible to judge whether the competitive order has changed compared to the last races but everybody will find out tomorrow.”

Anyone see anything to convince you that Michael really is back on form… or not? For instance, a crying Nick Heidfeld?

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