MONZA, Italy, Sept 8, 2011 (Grdon Howard / AFP) - Michael Schumacher walked into the circuit that reverberates with his and Ferrari's greatest feats on Thursday and almost immediately began playing down local hopes of seeing a reprise of his halcyon years in this weekend's Italian Grand Prix.
The 42-year-old German has won at Monza five times in the past but he said he had no hope of serving up another victory, this time for Mercedes.
The seven-time world champion also made clear that he was not expecting much more than a place in the top eight despite his stirring run to finish fifth from the back of the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago.
"Winning Monza is one of the sensational moments, and particularly being up on the podium -- I think it's a unique atmosphere on the podium, there's nowhere else quite so intense," he said. "But I don't think we have a reason to talk about victories in my position, at the moment. We'll have to postpone this for next year!"
Many close observers believe Mercedes' power and straight-line speed could give them a more competitive edge than at any recent races -- but Schumacher said even that improvement will not be enough. He added: "Look at our ranking and at the moment it's pretty consistent in seventh or eighth -- we are the fourth-strongest team and that's the optimum.
"Yes, at Monza, straight-line speed is good for us -- circuits with fewer corners seem to be beneficial, but honestly I don't think it's really enough to change our general position because the gap is too big." Continuing to play down any talk of an improvement in the team's performance, he added that he felt his display in Belgium was satisfying because it proved his point -- that he can still deliver at the top, when the conditions give him a chance.
"Yes, it definitely gave me satisfaction, but it only confirmed what I've been telling you guys and what I know that I'm able to do," he told reporters. "I've not always been able to show this for various reasons and I have never felt I have a reason to lose that confidence -- the ability is still there. At most of the races this year I've been there or even quicker, but the results didn't show that."
Schumacher may be playing down expectations because of his legendary status in Italy after winning five drivers' titles in an unprecedented spell of success with Ferrari.
However, he may be realistic in his belief that Mercedes do not yet have a car to challenge the performance of Red Bull, McLaren, or a Ferrari team on home soil.