Record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher has admitted that compatriot Nico Rosberg is the strongest team-mate he has ever had in the top flight - as Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug mused that the younger of the two Germans 'could even be the best of them all'.

Despite his distinctly underwhelming return to active competition this season to-date, the most successful driver the sport has ever known remains adamant that he is back in it for the long haul, and that he has every intention of hanging around to see out his three-year contract with Mercedes Grand Prix.

The 41-year-old has acknowledged that qualifying is an Achilles' heel that he is 'working on' - with an eight-two advantage in Rosberg's favour at present - but when told that his countryman had described him as 'without doubt the strongest team-mate I've had in F1', 'Schumi' replied that he 'can say the same'.

"I am still motivated to achieve my goals in the three years," the 91-time grand prix-winner told German reporters. "There's nothing to add. I'm not entirely happy with the results, but I didn't expect to drive everyone into the ground. Basically, I'm feeling good and having a lot of fun."

Those sentiments have been echoed by Haug, who has repeatedly defended Schumacher's form in F1 2010 and steadfastly insisted that he would want no other driver line-up at the Brackley-based outfit next season [see separate story - click here], brushing aside speculation that the Kerpen native might elect to rejoin the ranks of retirement come the end of the campaign to avoid risking doing any further damage to his illustrious reputation - and arguing that there is no shame at all in his currently trailing Rosberg by 54 points in the drivers' standings at the midway stage of proceedings.

"Definitely not," the 57-year-old told German news agency DPA, when asked if the team was considering replacing its talisman driver for 2011. "As soon as we have a winning car then he will look for victories, just like Nico Rosberg will. Nico is one of the best around - who knows, he could even be the best of them all.

"Michael finished in fourth place twice in the last six grands prix. That's not much for Schumacher or Mercedes standards, but it's a lot when you consider what was possible in these races. We will make it to the very top. We know what it takes to win races; we've done it before and we'll do it again."

Indeed, in evidence of Haug's contention, Schumacher's former Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine has opined in typically irreverent fashion that the seven-time title-winner believed he had everything in-place to orchestrate a successful 'second career' this year - only for the one variable that he had no control over to catch him out.

"Michael took his gamble, but it's backfired," the Ulsterman told British newspaper The Sun. "Ross Brawn was running the team, Mercedes were coming back so every box was ticked - except the new car was sh*t..."

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