Mick Schumacher’s mouth may have been covered by a mask as he strolled around the Formula 2 paddock for the first time in seven months, but not even that could hide the smile on his face, with the return to racing just around the corner.

The PREMA driver is embarking on his second season in F2 and began it by taking P5 in Qualifying, a solid result despite mechanical issues restricting him to just two push laps in Free Practice.

“It took me a while to get into the rhythm again because I basically went from no driving at all and straight into Qualifying, so therefore I am very happy,” explained the German. “The team did a great job to be able to change the engine in such a short space of time and I couldn’t have done it without them. I am very happy that I have them with me and that I was able to start Qualifying.

“I was mostly excited to get back out there. It has been such a long break and I couldn’t wait until we could drive, but then unfortunately I didn’t get to drive much until Qualifying.

“Nevertheless, I had a grin on my face the whole time. I was very happy to be back and also to walk around the paddock and see the people again, it is like a second family to me.”

The Ferrari junior enters the new season with heavy pressure on his shoulders. The Tifosi have made no secret of their desire to see him make the fairy-tale move to Formula 1 next season, but if Schumacher is to do so, then he will need a big season.

The German says that he is remaining realistic though, describing his expectations ahead of the first race as “Open-minded.”

“I think that is the best word to use,” he said. “It will be totally different to last year. I think that there will be a lot more pushing than we are used to. Probably more mistakes will happen, not necessarily for me, but I am just saying that it is easier to make a mistake when you are pushing 100%.”

Starting from fifth on the grid, Schumacher knows a podium, and a potential race win, is well within his grasp, but with question marks remaining over the impact of the new 18-inch Pirelli rims, nothing is certain.

The German remained coy over his plans for the Feature Race and says he will be sitting down with his engineers to assess how best to attack it.

“It is important to now discuss with the team what strategy we want to go for and what we want to do in terms of the lap time. When we come in, what is the lap time we want to target and what is the procedure we want to go for when the race is settled, so that we don’t just burn the tyres out and have nothing left. That happened too many times last year in different locations, also for different drivers as well.

“That is something that the team and myself have worked on, both in pre-season testing and also in Free Practice. Unfortunately, we could not do that much, but we did some, so we got some information and we got some idea of what we want to do, and I think it looks very positive.”