Mercedes' vice-president of motorsport, Norbert Haug, has revealed that he would be happy to keep Michael Schumacher in the Three-Pointed Star's F1 line-up beyond the end of his current contract in 2012.
Whilst there is still some speculation as to whether Schumacher will want to extend his comeback beyond the current season if the WO2 does not prove to be a winner, Haug has admitted that he can see Mercedes and the seven-time world champion in tandem for some time to come. Speaking to Germany's Bild am Sonntag
, Haug said that Mercedes' upturn in form at last week's Barcelona group test had been encouraging for all concerned, not least Schumacher, and that the door was always open for talks about the future, although the driver's rumoured €21m pay cheque may be a sticking point.
"If Michael wants it, and we can agree on a right price, [we would extend the deal] with pleasure," said Haug, "Right now, we have the ideal team, one with tremendous bite and will, but also one with a lot of mutual respect. Nico learns from Michael and Michael from Nico."
The 2010 season, Schumacher's first after breaking a three-year retirement to return to F1, proved to be something of a disappointment, as Mercedes failed to emulate the performance shown by predecessor Brawn GP. The now 42-year old was overshadowed by younger team-mate Nico Rosberg, who claimed three top three finishes while Schumacher missed the podium for the first time in a full season of F1 racing, leading to suggestions that he may not return in 2011.
With a greater lead time for the design and development of the WO2, however, better things were expected of the coming year, but it wasn't until last week's test that Mercedes finally appeared to be on course as a potential frontrunner. Schumacher and Rosberg both took the opportunity to head the timesheets in Barcelona, encouraging team principal Ross Brawn to hope for an improvement in results from his long-time friend and colleague.
"Michael looks really strong," Brawn insisted, "He could surprise some people this year."
While he has a long way to go to match Louis Chiron's record as the oldest starter of an F1 world championship event - the Frenchman was 55 years and nine months old when he contested the 1955 Grand Prix of Monaco - Schumacher's spokeswoman, Sabine Kehm, acknowledged that he would be happy to remain at Mercedes should the situation be right.
"Of course we are open to discussions, because we feel we know the team very well," she explained, "Michael is totally motivated and will always give more for Mercedes and F1."
"Michael is so fit, he could still be driving at 50," added the 91-time grand prix-winner's doctor Johannes Peil.