For anyone with just a cursory interest in Formula One, seeing 43-year-old Michael Schumacher amongst the three fastest qualifiers at the Malaysian Grand Prix would have come as a bit of a shock.
After a three-year hiatus, he was thoroughly outqualified and outraced by his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2010, who is 16 years his junior. 2011 went a bit better for Schumacher as he displayed an ability to turn bad positions on the starting grid into strong results on raceday. The gap in the championship standings between Schumacher and Rosberg in 2011 was just 13 points as compared to 72 in 2010.
After the first two races of this season, Schumacher has outqualified Rosberg and managed to get on to the second row of the starting grid on both occasions.
Inactivity and the slow process of rebuilding the Mercedes team, are the two factors that influenced his form in previous seasons.
Schumacher was inactive for the majority of his time away from F1. Making his comeback in F1 at a time when testing is heavily restricted didn't help matters either.
Then there's the larger issue of the Mercedes team, which used to be the title-winning Brawn GP team, which used to be the struggling Honda F1 team. Following Honda's withdrawal and the mass layoffs that followed at Brawn (the staff size went down from around 800 to 400 from 2008 to 2009), the team's technical staff had to be slowly rebuilt to produce a car that could hold its own at the sharp end of the grid.
This, coupled with two years of racing under his belt, has led to the German looking ominously quick in 2012.
Whether Schumacher can maintain this momentum in Sepang and the rest of the season remains to be seen. Not to mention whether he will renew his contract with Mercedes that expires at the end of the year.
For those hopeful of seeing more of the legendary racer beyond this year, here is an interesting nugget from the man himself. "The real potential of this team (Mercedes) won't be seen until 2013," he said following qualifying for last year's Indian GP.
How much do you want to bet he won't be around to make one last championship push?