Schumacher: Malaysia will be acid test for F1 title hopefuls
March 21, 2012 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
German driver Michael Schumacher returned to Formula One in 2010, having initially retired in 2006.
- Michael Schumacher says Malaysian GP will show true quality of 2012 teams
- The Mercedes driver qualified fourth for Australian GP, but retired after just 10 laps
- Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel warns the track is more difficult than first appears
- Ferrari's Fernando Alonso says drivers and teams need to be aware of changeable weather
(CNN) -- By qualifying fourth for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher offered a tantalising hint he was ready to shake off the indifferent form he has displayed since returning to Formula One in 2010.
The seven-time world champion's challenge in Melbourne was cut short by a 10th-lap gearbox failure, but the German insists the true strength of this year's cars and drivers will not be known until after this weekend's race in Malaysia.
"The circuit in Melbourne is not really representative of the true competitive picture," the Mercedes driver told the sport's official website. "But nevertheless the car gives me a good feeling for the season ahead.
F1 teams and drivers for 2012
Australian Grand Prix: March 18, Melbourne
2012 champion: Jenson Button, McLaren
Formula One 2012: The circuits
The 2012 Formula One season sees the introduction of a four-hour limit for races, following last year's rain-delayed marathon in Canada. Charlie Whiting, the FIA's race director, explained the decision, telling the sport's official website: "Should four hours elapse during a future race, drivers will receive a signal telling them they have one more lap before the checkered flag."
Formula One rule changes for 2012
"Sepang will be interesting for everybody because it will be the first clue to the real relative strengths of all the cars."
Sunday's race was won by McLaren's 2009 world champion Jenson Button, with Red Bull's back-to-back title winner Sebastian Vettel claiming second place.
Schumacher is convinced Mercedes' F1 W03 car -- which features a controversial DRS-activated F-duct device that has attracted scrutiny from other teams -- is capable of helping him and teammate Nico Rosberg challenge for honors in 2012.
"After the disappointment of how the first race in Melbourne turned out, I am flying to Malaysia with a big sense of anticipation," the 43-year-old said. "We saw in Australia that our car is capable of putting us in the mix."
Schumacher's compatriot Vettel expressed that the Sepang Circuit, where he was victorious in 2011, is a more difficult challenge than it first appears.
"It has big run-off areas and a broad track, meaning it appears easy, but it's not," the sport's youngest double world champion said.
"The heat, high humidity and weather aren't the only challenges, as the main thing is to find the ideal car set up. It's good to go there off the back of Australia and I hope we get another strong result."
It will be the first clue to the real relative strengths of all the cars
Ferrari came into the new campaign off the back of a disappointing preseason, with the F2012 car struggling for pace.
Spanish driver Fernando Alonso, who lost his title as F1's youngest two-time champion to Vettel, put in an admirable drive last weekend to finish fifth after starting the race in 12th.
The 30-year-old said changeable weather conditions in Malaysia would test the competitors.
"There is no other place in the world, the Formula One world that is, where it can go from sunshine to torrential rain in the space of a few minutes," he said.
"Those on the pit wall will have to keep their eyes peeled and look at the radar carefully to be ready for any possible change in the weather."
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