Bernie Ecclestone says he has 'no doubt' that Michael Schumacher can be a title contender during the 2011 F1 season if Mercedes can given the seven-time champion a competitive car.
The new W02 has yet to show the outright speed to challenge the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari during pre-season testing, despite setting the pace on a number of days, with Mercedes set to bring in a series of aerodynamic developments prior to the season-opener in Australia in an effort to improve competitiveness.
Schumacher will hope to improve on a 2010 campaign which ultimately failed to deliver but Ecclestone said he was sure the German could win again if the package is right.
In the past, both Niki Lauda and Alain Prost came out of retirement to win the world title and, although his circumstances are different, Ecclestone insisted that Schumacher could win again in F1.
“There are differences,” he told the official F1 website. “Niki had won two titles before he retired and Alain Prost three. Michael retired as a seven-time world champion. That's a bit of another league. When Lauda returned it was with McLaren and Prost with Williams, which were both the top teams at that time and that was unfortunately not the case with Mercedes last season.
“Michael is still very motivated and his physical fitness is as good as in his heyday. When you talk to him you feel with every word and every gesture that he wants to win again - more than anything else. If Mercedes gives him a competitive car, he will win again. I have not the slightest doubt about it. If he has a competitive car, he's a title contender.
“In the old days there weren't so many A-list drivers on the grid. In those days you had a maximum of three drivers eligible for the title and only two teams. It was either McLaren racing against Ferrari, or Williams against Ferrari or Williams against McLaren, but that was it. Today we have four, probably even five teams able to win races. That means that eight or nine guys are fighting for the top spot on the podium.”