Michael Schumacher and Mercedes Grand Prix have reached a 'verbal agreement' for the most successful driver in F1 history to make a sensational return in 2010 with the reigning world champions, it has been reported in the German's national media.

The deal is for one year only, it is understood - with the common school of thought being that Mercedes intends to poach Red Bull Racing prodigy Sebastian Vettel for the following season and beyond - and completes what Bild magazine describes as 'one of the greatest comebacks in sport'.

The only remaining obstacle, Focus magazine adds, is the successful completion of the mandatory FIA medical examination - particularly in the light of the recurring, motorcycling accident-induced neck injury that ruled the 91-time grand prix-winner out of substituting former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa at Maranello earlier this year.

What's more, Focus reports that the contract is for EUR3.5 million - around half the figure that was originally being bandied about [see separate story - click here] - suggesting that money is not the motivating factor in the decision, with Schumacher having made little secret of the fact that the competitive fire inside of him had been re-awakened following his ultimately abortive plan to rejoin the fray in Massa's stead during the summer.

If true, the news means that the Kerpen native will partner compatriot Nico Rosberg and rekindle his ultra-successful working relationship with team principal Ross Brawn, after the Englishman expertly engineered him to all seven of his record-breaking tally of world championship crowns firstly at Benetton and subsequently Ferrari between 1994 and 2004.

The agreement also reputedly includes a sports ambassadorial role with Mercedes on a longer-term basis - a move that would necessitate the severing of all ties with Ferrari, for whom the 40-year-old has been employed as a special advisor since hanging up his racing helmet at the end of the 2006 campaign. According to an 'insider' who spoke to Bild, the deal is a formality should Schumacher receive the medical all-clear and the Scuderia agree to liberate him from his commitments.

"Schumacher feels fit and healthy," the insider confided. "The last tests were very positive. He can't wait for the return and working with Ross Brawn again."

Whilst official spokeswoman Sabine Kehm refused to comment on the matter, a source close to Schumacher's management team admitted to Eurosport Yahoo! Germany that the stories are now 'more than just rumours', and triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda told Bild: "World champion-maker Ross Brawn, Mercedes and record world champion Michael Schumacher - that would be a sensational combination."

British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) President Damon Hill has contended that a comeback would allow Schumacher to close up the 'unfinished business' left behind following his 2006 retirement, suggesting that his former title rival was pushed rather than jumped from Ferrari to make way for Kimi Raikkonen, the man viewed by team management at the time as his natural replacement [see separate story - click here] - and Ralf Schumacher agrees that he has 'no doubt' his brother could successfully rejoin the field.

The tie-up similarly makes sense from the standpoint that whilst Schumacher has never competed for Mercedes in F1, he first sprang to global prominence whilst racing sportscars for the Stuttgart manufacturer shortly before making his grand prix debut in the early 1990s - bestowing upon the partnership a neat sort of symmetry - and his wealth of experience, unrivalled leadership qualities and development skills would inarguably be a huge boon both to his new employers and also his young team-mate. It would, moreover, be a significant injection of positive publicity for a sport that has been beset by intrigue, scandals and off-track politics throughout recent years.

Leading F1 journalist Ed Gorman from The Times, however, questions whether all the talk about a Schumacher/Mercedes partnership has truly arisen by design - or rather by accident...

'What is this really about?' he ponders. 'Would Schumacher have been a possibility for a seat at Mercedes had the team kept hold of Jenson Button, as they always planned to do? The unfortunate truth for Brawn and Nick Fry is that their pursuit of Schumacher has only come about because they have made such a mess of their driver strategy for next season. They made a colossal mistake in letting Button go to McLaren - and Button made a mistake of similar proportions in allowing McLaren to turn his head.
'No-one seriously imagined Schumacher would be a target for Brawn and Fry in the closing weeks of their phenomenally successful first season as an independent team. My guess is that when the time came to start talks with Button, they concluded that he had no serious alternatives other than to stay with the team that had made him world champion. On that basis, they got rid of Rubens Barrichello - which now looks hasty and ill-advised - and made Button a derisory opening offer of ?4 million.

'The Englishman called their bluff. He started talking to McLaren, who saw a golden opportunity to get their own back on Brawn for snatching their main sponsor and partner, Mercedes. By the time Fry and Brawn had woken up to what was happening, and that Button was serious about leaving, it was too late.'