Michael Schumacher has admitted that there is 'a very, very, very strong possibility that he will be driving for Mercedes' in F1 2010, Luca di Montezemolo has revealed - as the Ferrari President added that he is having to re-assure the 'upset' tifosi that the record-breaking multiple world champion is not 'a traitor' for choosing to walk away.

Speculation that the most successful driver in F1 history is to make a sensational comeback is gathering pace by the day, three years on from what some deemed to be an enforced retirement before he was ready to go - given the option of either hanging up his helmet or else shunting team-mate Felipe Massa out of a seat as Kimi Raikkonen arrived at Maranello.

It is now believed that a final medical scan following a private test session in the New Year is the sole remaining minor obstacle to a Schumacher return - and di Montezemolo recently confirmed that upon successful completion of that, the Scuderia would not stand in his way [see separate story - click here].

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Indeed, with his motivation and desire for glory still clearly firmly intact, only the neck injury that ruled him out of replacing Massa following the Brazilian's Hungaroring accident earlier this year now looks capable of similarly scuppering Schumacher's 2010 comeback bid - and a clearly disappointed but understanding di Montezemolo has confirmed that in a short telephone conversation this week, the German confessed that a deal is now all-but a certainty.

"I hadn't spoken to him since Abu Dhabi, but I spoke to him on Wednesday and he told me there is a very, very, very strong possibility that he will be driving for Mercedes," the erudite Italian is quoted as having said by the Daily Mail, "but it is not 100 per cent decided.

"We have a guy called Michael Schumacher. The real Michael Schumacher is fantastic. He is a Ferrari consultant. He always told me he would finish his career at Ferrari. Don't forget that when you start collaboration with a driver as long ago as we did with Michael, in 1995, you are also a friend. You can agree and disagree, but you remain friends. I won't forget what he did for Ferrari, and he won't forget what we did for him.

"But there is another Michael - 40-41 years old, German, same name - and he has decided to [start] a new career. Everybody in life can do what they prefer. It is wonderful [that] he wants to try again - I like these people - but it is not the Michael I know; it is his twin. We have a lot of fans on the website who are very, very upset. They think Michael is a traitor, but I will explain to them that this is another Michael.

"As a friend, it is difficult - I'm happy to see someone so fit and with so much determination - but as the President of Ferrari, I am sad. Michael has been special for us, and we have been special for him. In the bad times he was good, which is why we have to accept there is another Michael. We will not have him back, because the real Michael is still at Ferrari."

di Montezemolo went on to explain that it took just five minutes to persuade Schumacher to agree to substitute Massa back in the summer as he 'was ready to be convinced', adding that when doctors subsequently halted his plan abruptly in its tracks, 'he was more than sad - he was destroyed'.

The Kerpen native claimed five of his seven drivers' world crowns with Ferrari, and is revered by the Prancing Horse as one of its all-time favourite sons. di Montezemolo reflected that 'in my life, I have cried for Formula 1 twice - once was in September, 1975 when we won the championship after eleven years with Niki [Lauda] and the race with Clay [Regazzoni], and again it was in Monza on the Ferrari Day in 2006 after Michael's retirement, when he came out of the car carrying his helmet having driven a Ferrari for the final time...he was moved.'

If Schumacher does indeed elect to indulge his desires and make a remarkable return, he will have to relinquish his advisory role at his current employers - what is viewed in Italy as akin to walking out on the family. That might perhaps come as a relief to new-signing double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso - after predecessor Raikkonen was known to be uncomfortable with the 'Shadow of Schumi' always lurking in the background or on the pit wall - but he will undoubtedly be keenly missed.

"Schumacher...will remain forever part of the Ferrari family," di Montezemolo affirmed, "but it seems we have nothing to offer him. We have two young drivers in Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, on whom we are counting to deliver a lot next year."

The 62-year-old acknowledged that Alonso had been targeted as something of an antidote to the famously reticent Raikkonen, who 'did not engage in much dialogue...in fact he didn't speak at all' over his three years at the team - and insisted Ferrari would be capable of managing a driver who arrives with something of a temperamental reputation following his very public fall-out with McLaren-Mercedes in 2007.

"I have spoken to [Stefano] Domenicali not once but a thousand times about this," he assured. "I have also spoken to Fernando and told him 'You do not drive for yourself; you drive for a team - if you want to drive for yourself, start your own team'. He is an intelligent guy, very focused, and he knows he made mistakes."