Michael Schumacher fastest in FP2 at Melbourne image

Seven times a world champion and four times a winner of the Australian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher topped practice for the first time since returning from retirement in 2010, ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Schumacher was less than a tenth of a second faster than Force India newboy Nico Hulkenberg after two rain-lashed sessions in Melbourne.

“Today was a nice start into a hopefully exciting season, and certainly two promising sessions for us. However, I would not go so far as to speak about being confident, as the weather conditions were too mixed to gain a clear picture.

The question we will all be asking is whether Schumacher can replicate this form and grab an improbably pole.

The most successful driver of all time, Schumacher is preparing for his 288th race at the start of his 18th full season in Formula One and was under no illusions on Friday.

“We know what Friday sessions are for and don’t know what fuel loads others were running,” Schumacher added.

Sebastian Vettel was 10th while McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton labored into 15th and 16th.

Returning 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen was 18th for Lotus at the end of his first day back after two years out of Formula One in rallying.

Earlier in the day, Button had led a McLaren quinella in P1 with a slick time of 1:27.560.