Michael Schumacher may not be back to his best but he’s getting closer.
The record seven-time Formula One champion was fourth at the Spanish Grand Prix yesterday, holding off last year’s champion Jenson Button for his best finish since he returned in March after a three-year absence. Red Bull’s Mark Webber won the race at Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona.
Schumacher, 41, said he felt more comfortable with a new car the Mercedes-Benz team introduced for the fifth of 19 races following a three-week break from racing. He had finished 10th in the last two races he completed.
“It’s been an O.K. weekend,” Schumacher said. “Jenson pushed quite hard: I’m sure it was pretty frustrating for him and exciting for me.”
Schumacher is the oldest driver to compete in the series since Nigel Mansell raced at age 42 in 1995. Daimler AG’s Mercedes lured him out of retirement after buying a 75 percent stake in last season’s championship-winning Brawn team with Aabar Investments PJSC last November.
The new Mercedes chassis is a few centimeters longer and has a more equal weight distribution, team manager Ross Brawn told reporters. That helped Schumacher, who out-qualified and finished the race higher than teammate Nico Rosberg for the first time this season. Rosberg was 13th.
“With the car we have now we can do a lot more,” Schumacher, who is 17 years older than his teammate, said before the race. “I’m more confident.”
Schumacher passed Button after 17 laps and blocked his attempts to retake fifth place for some eight laps before pulling out of reach. Schumacher rose to fourth when Lewis Hamilton had a puncture with two of 66 laps left and slammed into a metal barrier.
It’s the third career win for Webber, who’s the 10th straight pole-sitter to win the Spanish Grand Prix.
“It was a crucial pole,” Webber told reporters. “The race today was a very well executed Grand Prix. I just settled into a rhythm, looking after the tires.”
Brawn, who oversaw all Schumacher’s seven titles as technical director of Benetton and Ferrari, said two days ago critics were writing him off too early.
“We need to see the season pan out a bit more before people form opinions,” Ross Brawn said. “Any driver even of the caliber of Michael Schumacher who comes back after three years is going to find it quite a challenge.”