He may be the best part of two decades older than some of the drivers he will be competing against, but Michael Schumacher has made very clear that he has only one ambition upon returning to the F1 grid with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010 – an eighth world championship title.
Today's confirmation that the most successful driver in F1 history is to make a sensational comeback to top flight competition has provided a huge injection of positive publicity for a sport that amidst all the recent scandals and manufacturer departures had looked to be falling down around its knees.
The king, though, is now back – and what's more, in Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn he is joining forces once again with his kingmaker, the man who expertly helped to guide him to each and every one of his seven crowns, firstly with Benetton and then with Ferrari.
Dismissing any notions that the neck injury that prevented him from substituting former team-mate Felipe Massa at the Scuderia
back in the summer might yet return to haunt him – the very abortive comeback that planted within the Kerpen native the seed of rejoining the fray full-time – it is palpable that at 41 years of age, he is up for the challenge of teaching young pups Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel a thing or two. Seventy per cent of Germans believe Schumacher will make history with another world championship in 2010 – and the country's most famous driver is clearly amongst them.
“I'm very motivated, I'm thrilled and I'm excited – and that's what counts,” he told the BBC
, when it was put to him that some could consider a comeback three years on from 'retirement' either brave or foolhardy in light of the potential loss of reputation that might ensue should he fail to triumph again. “I want to have fun out there, and I feel as fresh as ever, I have to say.
“The three-year break has recharged me in a way that until this summer I didn't really realise – but now I do. You see how quickly things can change. Before I went to my meeting with (Ferrari president) Luca di Montezemolo after the heavy accident for Felipe (in Hungary), I really didn't feel like it was what I wanted – but when I felt the responsibility that I had at that moment, I thought 'I've got to do this'. Certainly, that initiated something that I didn't know was there anymore – and basically triggered what we see right now.
“I'm very excited. It has been tough to leave the Ferrari family that has been a big part of my career, but nevertheless it was a fantastic sense of excitement when I got the call from Ross in November, with the package of Mercedes providing a Silver Arrow that I'm going to be able to sit inside and throw around – that's really great stuff.
“I think actually it's the only combination that would have been able to trigger it; there was no other combination that I would have liked to work with. Ross is a long-time friend and knows me well, as I know him. Together, we have won races we shouldn't have won, we've had good times and we've had tough times, but in the end we have managed to finish with a positive attitude.
“Challenges and excitement are what I always look for, and I wouldn't have entered into all of this if I didn't feel 100 per cent confident. That confidence comes from the serious training that I have done recently, in order to confirm that my neck can withstand all the efforts that it couldn't withstand this summer. The inspiration that I have felt at the team has been a great source of excitement and [there has been] a fantastic welcome from the guys here, so I really feel great and inspired to deliver.”
Admitting that he is eagerly anticipating the 2010 curtain-raising grand prix in Bahrain and that his first test outing on 1 February 'seems like far too long to wait right now', Schumacher joked that all those drivers who never had the opportunity to race against him before but do now 'had better use it'. And when he vows to do his talking 'on-track', it is clear that in mind, body and spirit, the king is very much back in the building.
“I have won [the championship] seven times, I'm now with the team that won both titles last year and Mercedes is there as a partner and team owner, so you can't expect anything else other than to go for the world championship,” the 91-time grand prix-winner reflected in conclusion. “That's what we're aiming for, and it's certainly possible with all the qualities that we have here in-house, but then you have to deliver – and it's our job to do so. I'm looking forward to the fight and I'm looking forward to the wheel-to-wheel [action]. The fire has started up again.”