Lewis Hamilton has warned his rivals not to write of Michael Schumacher this season, despite the German's high-profile return to Formula One not exactly setting the world alight in the opening four races of 2010.
While many expected Schumacher to return and, after a short period of acclimatisation, be competing toe-to-toe with the likes of 2008 champion Hamilton and his replacement in German affections, Sebastian Vettel, the Mercedes man has struggled even to match team-mate Nico Rosberg in the four 'flyaway' races that opened the schedule. While there was undoubtedly a degree of adjustment that needed to be made in Schumacher's style, however, the Mercedes team has since admitted that its WO1 did not suit the seven-time champion, and promised changes for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend.
Those changes appeared to have the desired effect, with Schumacher running third fastest - and ahead of Rosberg - in both free practice sessions on Friday but, speaking before the Barcelona weekend got underway, Hamilton was already warning that the 41-year old could be a force as the season wore on.
"To me he looks fit and working really hard," the Briton told the official F1 website, "He is not Superman, he is a top athlete and a fantastic driver, but here we have great teams and great drivers. Us drivers, including Sebastian, Fernando [Alonso] and myself, we have been driving consistently for the last couple of years and been on it, whereas he has taken a step back during that time. I don't think that anyone could have expected him to be on the same levels as us straight away, [but] I think that he has been doing a great job, and people should just take it easy on him. I am sure he will be competing with us later this season."
Although possibly Schumacher's worst race so far this season, the Chinese Grand Prix at least allowed the German to run wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton for the first time since his return, and the McLaren man admitted to enjoying the experience.
"It was fantastic," Hamilton enthused, "I always wanted to race with him and I finally got the chance to be wheel-to-wheel with him. And he put up a great fight - he overtook me, I overtook him, and it was a 'wow' moment to figure out how it is racing against Michael Schumacher."
While he considers the German to be an unrealised factor in this year's title battle, however, Hamilton admits that the more obvious threats to his ambitions lie elsewhere.
"For sure, [there is] my team-mate Jenson [Button], as he is leading the championship and I have to focus on him the most," the Briton reasoned, "But there is also Sebastian, there is Fernando and not to forget Nico, who is very competitive at the moment. I have to try and do a better job than them.
"I think that Jenson is doing a fantastic job, but I will continue to push and I am sure that the results will come at some stage. It has not been a perfect start to the season if you take a look at the results but, in terms of the racing, the fun and experience, it has been great. I am looking forward to many more great races, even though I would take some backmarkers from the front in the future. It is not bad luck, it is just unfortunate. At the last race, I did four pit-stops, and I finished only a second behind Jenson...."