Michael Schumacher has acknowledged that even if an eighth F1 World Championship crown might be something of a tall order on his return to the grand prix grid in 2010, his focus is more on the 'long-term' - and in achieving his goal within the duration of his three-year contract with Mercedes Grand Prix.

Whilst some have opined that his race-rustiness from three years out of the saddle - allied to the only recently-healed neck injury that prevented a comeback in-place of former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in the wake of the Brazilian's life-threatening Hungaroring qualifying accident last summer - will count against the most successful driver in the sport's history, others have already instated Schumacher as one of the pre-season favourites for F1 2010.

The man himself is refusing to make any predictions, endeavouring to play down expectations of effectively picking up from where he left off at the end of 2006, whilst making no bones about the fact that ultimately, he has only returned for one reason - to win again.

"In our long-term targets with Mercedes, we have a clear objective," the 41-year-old told German newspaper Bild. "I want to become world champion again. Perhaps that will not happen in my first season back, but it is realistic over the three seasons."

Schumacher returned to the cockpit with a GP2 Series test for Super Nova at Jerez last week, and wasted little time in getting down to business. Rain might have hampered his initial efforts, but the Kerpen native thereafter rapidly got back into the groove almost as if he had never been away. Joking that he has found the secret to eternal youth as he now enters his fifth decade, the 91-time grand prix-winner's rivals would do well to be on their guard indeed.

"Apparently I have succeeded in pushing back the effects of ageing," he quipped. "I must have good genes! I could really drive a lot on the last day of testing, and it worked out perfectly. I am very happy with the way testing went; we worked well, the lap times and consistency were good [and] we could do everything we had scheduled to do. I feel fit and I felt immediately comfortable back in the car - hey, let's go for it!"


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