Mercedes Grand Prix top brass Norbert Haug and Nick Fry have poured cold water upon speculation that record-breaking multiple world champion Michael Schumacher could bring a premature end to his return to F1 competition - leaping to the defence of the German legend, who they insist remains 'highly-motivated' and focussed on 'long-term' success.

Schumacher is one of only two drivers in the F1 2010 field - along with Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov at Renault - to have been out-qualified by his team-mate 3-0 thus far this season, causing many to call into question the wisdom of rejoining the fray at 41 years of age and following three full years away from the grand prix grid.

That, assuredly, was not what the Kerpen native had envisaged upon agreeing terms with Mercedes back at the end of last year - and heading to the fourth round of the 2010 campaign in China next weekend, Schumacher trails Nico Rosberg in the internecine, all-Teutonic battle at the Brackley-based outfit by 35 points to just nine. His younger compatriot also achieved a front row start and podium finish in Malaysia last weekend, what Haug acknowledges was 'the best job possible'.

The best his countryman has qualified, by contrast, has been seventh, and his highest finish only sixth. What's more, the Michael Schumacher that spent a jaw-dropping 22 laps tucked up behind the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari - a man with all of eleven grand prix starts to his name - Down Under in Melbourne last month looked a pale shadow of the Michael Schumacher who dominated F1 from 1994 until 2006.

The seven-time title-winner's contract with Mercedes is not due to expire until the end of 2012, but in the light of his off-key form to-date this year, some have surmised that his 'second career' might transpire to be even more short-lived than anticipated, and that the 91-time grand prix-winner could well return to the ranks of retirement after a sole campaign. Far from it, contends Haug.

"It's quite the contrary," the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President told German publication Bild, a newspaper whose latest headline reads 'Der Schumi-Absturz' - 'The fall of Schumi'. "I know that Michael is highly-motivated and wants to make his comeback for the long-term, with long-term success.

"As soon as the car can [win], so can Michael. The fact that he has not had better results so far is not his fault. The true fans know exactly what has happened so far and why there is the points deficit."

"Every race he is learning a little bit more and it is all coming together slowly but surely, which is probably what you would expect," concurred chief executive Fry, speaking to the Press Association. "I would not underestimate him."