Despite the German legend's somewhat underwhelming return to top flight competition thus far in the opening two races of the 2010 world championship campaign, F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has expressed his opinion that record-breaking multiple world champion Michael Schumacher could yet go on for another 'ten years' at the highest level.

For a man with a staggering 91 grand prix victories to his name and seven drivers' crowns - making him by some margin the most successful competitor the sport has ever seen - sixth place in Bahrain and a lowly tenth Down Under in Melbourne last weekend represented unaccustomed territory indeed, and Schumacher's comparatively inert form in the Australian Grand Prix was undeniably a far cry from his level of performance of yore.

Three years away from the grand prix grid and his advancing years at 41 have dimmed the Kerpen native's scintillating raw pace and competitive spirit, the detractors claim - and should there be no dramatic re-emergence of the 'Schumi' of old between now and season's end, there are predictions that he may decide to call time on his comeback with Mercedes Grand Prix two years before his three-year contract expires at the end of 2010.

The man himself has explained away his unwillingness to rejoin the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) that he formerly led for so long by stating that he is 'not here for the long-term future, only for a limited time, [so] I don't think I should get involved' - but Ecclestone is not so sure.

"I think his new career will be long, maybe even ten years," the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, whilst Mercedes reserve driver Nick Heidfeld concurred in an interview with AZ that his compatriot 'will continue to get better from now on'.

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