Shanghai: Michael Schumacher refused to tempt fate on Saturday after returning to the front row of the Formula One starting grid for the first time since 2006 and at the same circuit where he took his 91st and last win that year.

Asked if he felt he was closing the circle and was capable of picking up where he left off by winning again in China, the seven times world champion smiled: "I'll tell you tomorrow."

The former Ferrari ace, now 43, has not stood on the podium since he ended three years of retirement to come back with Mercedes in 2010.

Since then he has had to put up with critics saying he was over the hill, would never again be a winner, had lost his touch and was in danger of damaging his legacy as the sport's most successful driver of all time.

He has looked rusty at times in the last two years but rarely, if at all, has he shown self-doubt or wavered in the belief that he can return to the top of the podium if given the tools to do the job.

Now Mercedes are coming up with what he needs. On Saturday, the German was third fastest but moved up to the second slot on the front row alongside compatriot and teammate Nico Rosberg after McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was handed a five place penalty for a gearbox change.

"When you are in difficulties, you know what it means to get out of that. It needs patience and focus and that's what we all had. And now we are taking the fruits from all the work and effort we put in," said Schumacher.


The German's contract ends this year but team principal Ross Brawn, who followed him from Benetton to Ferrari and then brought him to Mercedes, set no limits.

"We have been consistent in believing that Michael can continue to produce the results we've all seen in his career," he told reporters. "It was a fact that we've not had a good enough car.

"I think it's great for the team, it's great for him and for Formula One. To see Michael Schumacher up there is a great bonus for Formula One as a sport generally.

"Michael's second period in Formula One is... viewed differently by the public," added the Briton. "They are more enthusiastic to see him do well."

Schumacher was dominant in the early years of the last decade, winning five titles in a row with Ferrari and setting record after record without real rivals in what some dubbed 'Formula Yawn'.

"With the results he had in his first career it became almost automatic," said Brawn, who was Ferrari technical director in that golden age for the Italian glamour team.

"And like any sport when someone is dominating it like Michael was able to, people get used to it and it's not so exciting. But seeing Michael back on the front row is great for him and the sport.

"To have two drivers in there, with Nico, is for us just sensational."

Mercedes have yet to find the race pace to match their obvious speed in qualifying, with only one point from the first two races after struggling to get the tyres to work in a tight performance window.

They have been working hard to resolve that, however, while also seeing off a protest from rivals Lotus over their controversial rear wing. If they can build on Rosberg's pole, Schumacher could be around for some time longer.

"Everything is completely open," said Brawn. "If it feels right for him and it feels right for us, and things are going well, then why would we want to stop? But we've got a long way to go before we get there.

"It won't be a difficult decision I'm sure, but it's far too early to get into speculation about what it's going to be."