Michael Schumacher has played down talk that Mercedes GP will be in a position to fight for victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, although the seven-time champion insists that the Brackley-based team will be in the title mix come the end of the year.

Schumacher makes his much anticipated return to the sport in the Gulf state this weekend as Mercedes launches its championship challenge and while he admits that a winning start isn't likely, the German said he was confident of being involved in the title fight as the year goes on.

"I said it quite clear from the beginning: we do not have to - and probably will not - be in the position to win right from the start," he said in an interview on his personal website. "It is important to be close and then use the long season to be at the top at the end. It is not the start which is important; it is the finish.

"I am confident we can play a role in this fight. If we win it at the end will be a different question, as always in sports. But our entire team is extremely motivated, as am I. The guys have won both titles last year, and now, with Mercedes Power on board, they want to repeat this success. We all want to win. The season will be long and hard, no doubt about that, but I love this fight - it is because of this fight that I came back to Formula 1."

Schumacher added that he felt pre-season testing hadn't given a true indication of the form of the different teams on the grid, with Mercedes only set to run its definitive package for the first time in Bahrain.

"The car has not been completely at the level of other teams' cars at the end of the tests, true, but the amount of fuel was massively influencing this impression," he said. "It seems we were driving more fuel than others most of the time and therefore we look quite good I would say. But then it is hard to judge who played all his cards yet.

"Our car also has not been at the final configuration - something we had deliberately wanted. We wanted to use the two weeks development time between the last test and the race in Bahrain."