Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has suggested that it is just a matter of time before Michael Schumacher finds his feet - and the top of the podium - following his three-year lay-off from racing.

Then 78-year old's admiration of the seven-time world champion is clear, as is his delight in having him back in the fold at a time when F1's image was flagging, and he insists that it is wrong to judge him on the first four races of a season in which Mercedes has not been able to live up to the lightning start achieved by predecessor Brawn GP in 2009.

"Michael's Mercedes comeback has a touch of magic," Ecclestone told the official F1 website, "I don't know any other combination that, on the one hand, is so fascinating and, on the other, has a huge potential to be extremely successful. Maybe the only other that springs to my mind is Fernando Alonso and Ferrari.

"Michael is an asset to every team, and I am sure [Mercedes'] Norbert [Haug] would be the first to admit that Michael's results are not purely down to Michael, but have to do with the fact that Mercedes is not performing on the same level as Red Bull and McLaren. Anybody who criticises Michael is wrong - he deserves better."

The German has been comprehensively out-performed by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who currently lies second in the championship to McLaren's Jenson Button, but Ecclestone is quick to point out that Schumacher is not only coming back after a three-year 'retirement', but returns to a new-look F1 following last season's rule changes.

"Nico is very talented and Michael was on holiday for three years," he insists, "Ask me the same question after another two races but, at the moment I would say, don't underestimate Michael.

"Michael would have never returned had he not been convinced that he can do the job. Give him time to adapt to the new car and the new tyres. At the moment, he's something of a newbie who has to get accustomed to the trade again. But he's not a tourist in the paddock - he's here to win. And he will win again.

Schumacher has managed a best result of sixth place from the opening round of the championship in Bahrain, and has just two tenth places from the three races since then, but Haug insists that he expects the 41-year old's performance to improve as the campaign heads to Europe.

"At the moment, we don't have the best performing car on the grid," Haug acknowledged, "We have known that fact since the first day of testing, but we are in good shape for the future. Other teams are still working with double the headcount that we do. This should not sound like an excuse but rather an explanation. We will definitely be fighting for victories soon.

"Ross Brawn knows how to execute, so does Michael, and Nico is enormously talented and already hugely experienced for someone so young. I have been in F1 since 1994 and have had my own experiences. Our engines failed at times in the past, which caused McLaren-Mercedes to lose three championships, but today the Mercedes engine is one of the most reliable and strongest on the grid. I know that we will succeed with Mercedes GP.

"For sure, [Schumacher] doesn't deserve [the criticism directed at him in 2010]. He stimulates everybody, including Nico, so to work together with him and to profit from his experience can only be positive. Who can match Michael Schumacher's benchmark? He is truly one of the best.

"We all know that Michael would be his first and foremost critic if he realised that this job is not for him anymore. But that's not the case. Within the team, Michael is extremely constructive. I think, at the moment, he's realising how much he has missed all that. If you are a rock 'n' roll star, you want to be on stage and not contemplating life from your sofa. His enthusiasm is firing up the whole team."