Michael Schumacher may concede that he has lost a little of the pace that took him to seven F1 world titles with Benetton and Ferrari, but insists that he has not given up hope of landing an eighth, especially now that Mercedes appears to be back on the pace.

After struggling through his first season back after three years of retirement, which prompted suggestions that he may high-tail it back into the safety of life away from the track, Schumacher is still on the grid and, if recent Mercedes performances continue, poised to become a threat to Ferrari, McLaren and, if conditions prove suitable, maybe Red Bull as well.

Having failed to find the podium since he returned to action in Bahrain last season, Schumacher admits that he is not quite the driver he was before, but does not believe that that is reason to give up on his comeback.

"I don't doubt myself, but am I still as good as I was in 2002? The answer must be probably no," he told Britain's Daily Express newspaper, "If you think of the typical development of a human being, you must imagine it is the case. I cannot feel it. Whatever I do, I am up front. Whatever I do with four wheels, I am competitive.

"I can still perform at this level. If the cars were five or ten seconds quicker, maybe not. Having been out for three years, being the age I am, I don't think there are many who could do what I'm doing. How much am I different and how can I compensate with experience? How much the F1 situation, with it being slower not quicker, compensates for age? It is difficult to put in figures. The success I have had is because maybe I am exceptional. Probably I am still exceptional to do what I am doing at the age I am."

While much of last season's problems could be put down to Mercedes' hangover that resulted from predecessor Brawn GP's 2009 championship success, Schumacher is adamant that he can still be a force in F1, despite cynics suggesting that he return to retirement..

"I don't doubt myself because there is not sufficient reason to do so," the 42-year old insisted, "I still have this great passion for competition. That is in me, I still love that part. There are moments when you are not happy with certain things, but my nature is that it will encourage me rather than put me off my vision. If you ask the drivers, they will have the unanimous opinion that I have what it takes. My main target is to win the world championship. I hope I have enough time."

The only thing that stands in his way, according to Schumacher, could be the shaky nature of the cost-cutting agreement in F1. Part of his vision is based on the belief that the sport's giants will be limited sufficiently to bring them within reach of Mercedes, but he German isn't sure that that is happening as it should.

"There was an agreement that everyone would have the same size, but certain teams don't respect that," Schumacher claimed, "Now there seem to be different visions. If you take the number of people we have compared with Red Bull, that is very different. Will Mercedes have to go to an open field again or will the teams respect what they agreed and do that? We are not on the same playing field."

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