Melbourne: Michael Schumacher finds himself on the eve of the opening race of the 2011 Formula One season questioning the abilities of a race car he previously thought could challenge for the podium.
After a promising winter testing and competitive times in practice for the Australian Grand Prix, there were expectations that Schumacher might get back to challenging for wins after an anti-climactic comeback in 2010.
However the seven-time world champion will start Sunday's race from 11th on the grid after his Mercedes proved no match for Sebastian Vettel's pacesetting Red Bull or the fast improving McLarens.
"The fact of the matter is we're not exactly where we want to be, but we don't know the reasons for why that's the case.," the seven-time world champion said.
Schumacher said he was disappointed both because his car was not as fast as he thought, and because the top cars were faster than he expected.
"For Red Bull it's the first time they have shown their full potential ... On top of that, we are not exploring our maximum from the car," he said. "So it's both that are making the picture look very different to what it should be."
Teammate Nico Rosberg will start from seventh, behind the McLarens, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Lotus driver Vitaly Petrov.
Schumacher said the team would be spending a lot of time before the race investigating the car's shortfalls.
"We can have various theories, but we first want to analyze and understand, and obviously take the actions."
While Schumacher's starting spot is clearly a disappointment, it does mean he is the highest-ranked driver who can change his tires for the race — the top 10 must start on the tires they used to set their best time. This will allow the German to start on the firm prime tires and drive much longer before his first pit stop, perhaps offering him a chance to take the lead with clean air and track room.
"We don't know yet what will be the optimum strategy for how we'll start, but having cars in front of you with a lot of laps on their tires obviously is helpful for me maybe to get close and overtake.
"But nevertheless, the speed of the car is not cause to be too optimistic to take lots of positions in tomorrow's race."
While the car has disappointed, Schumacher is impressed with this season's Pirelli tires.
"The tires have performed much better than anticipated and whereas people have spoken of three-to-four pit stops, maybe now two-to-three pit stops is the most likely to happen."
Team principal Ross Brawn offered some qualified hope for the race.
"Without doubt, today was quite a disappointing qualifying session for the team," Brawn said. "We expected to be more competitive, however we haven't got the car working as well as we had hoped today.
"The fundamentals are good, but we've had rather too many challenges this weekend to be able to get the most out of it," he added. "We are in good shape for the race tomorrow in terms of tire availability and the car looked pretty reasonable on the longer runs, so let's wait and see what happens."