Gerhard Berger has tipped Michael Schumacher to be a leading protagonist for the 2010 F1 World Championship crown upon his return to the grand prix grid after a three-year hiatus - and predicts that the indignant tifosi will soon forgive the record-breaking German legend once he appears in front of them.

In what has been described as the greatest comeback in the history of sport, Schumacher will rejoin the fray next season with Mercedes Grand Prix, slipping into the cockpit vacated by 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button.

Having initially hung up his helmet at the end of 2006 - before he was truly ready, many believe - the most successful driver of all time will now bid to further add to his outstanding career statistics of seven world titles, 91 victories, 154 podium finishes and a staggering 1,369 points, and Berger believes he is eminently capable of doing just that.

Related Articles

"He was never really gone," the Austrian told German publication Auto Motor und Sport. "Michael has always been on the ball; he has been testing now and again and has competed in motorcycle and kart racing with his fighting spirit - he's also as fit as ever and has now recharged his batteries.

"I am confident that he will challenge for the world title; there will be a super fight between [Fernando] Alonso, [Sebastian] Vettel, Schumacher and [Lewis] Hamilton. With Massa, I judged him wrongly before - Felipe is better than I thought."

In Schumacher's favour, of course, is his reunion with Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, the man who expertly helped to guide him to every one of his world championship glories firstly with Benetton and subsequently Ferrari between 1994 and 2004 - and as a former favourite amongst the Scuderia's faithful himself, Berger suggests that the tifosi's venom towards the Kerpen native, in the wake of what they deem to be his 'betrayal' in jumping ship to join Mercedes, will pass.

"They talk like that now, because they don't have to look him in the eye," opined the ten-time grand prix-winner, who competed against Schumacher from 1991 until his retirement in 1997. "When he (Schumacher) stands before them, they will fall to their knees and worship him."

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has similarly claimed that the anger will be replaced with adoration come the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September [see separate story - click here].