As words to strike fear into the hearts of his rivals go, Michael Schumacher could scarcely have chosen them any better. When asked about what had prompted the signing of a three-year contract with Mercedes Grand Prix rather than just one year initially to see how things go, the record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion simply replied: "It doesn't have to be the end after three years."

Schumacher will already be defying all conventional logic by returning to the fray this year at the comparatively grand old age of 41, when most F1 drivers are generally either contemplating putting their feet up or else turning things down a notch or two in order to race in something a little less physically and mentally demanding. Not 'Schumi'.

With his appetite for glory and thirst for battle clearly re-awakened by three years spent out of the cockpit since his original 'retirement' at the end of 16 seasons of top flight competition in 2006 - and palpably as fit as he has ever been, even entering as he is into his fifth decade - the German has an incredible eighth drivers' world championship in his sights in 2010, and quite possibly a ninth in 2011 and a tenth in 2012. And then, he reasons, if he is still capable of holding his own against rivals closer to half his age, why stop there?

"Three years wasn't really my intention, but the idea came from the team," Schumacher told German newspaper Bild. "I look at it as a vote of confidence. The good thing is that we can have more success over the course of three years, but it doesn't have to mean it's over after three years."

At the beginning of the F1 2013 campaign, the Kerpen native will be 44 years of age, and in support of the 91-time grand prix-winner's claim, the legendary Juan-Manuel Fangio was two years older still when he secured the last of his five titles in 1957. Giuseppe 'Nina' Farina and Sir Jack Brabham were also both over 40 when they clinched the crown.

Asserting that he is 'sure' of being competitive - even if it might be 'a little optimistic' to add another championship trophy to his extraordinary career CV as early as 2010 - Schumacher added that such an objective 'has to be our target and our motivation', before quipping that he just needs to remind himself which team he is driving for on his return, given that he has spent the past 14 years in the employ of Ferrari.

"I have to watch out not to drive into the red box when I change tyres," he joked.