Ferrari star Felipe Massa has confirmed that he is 'back to the same driver he was' before his life-threatening Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying accident, after getting behind the wheel of an F1 car for the first time in two-and-a-half months.

The Brazilian took to the circuit around the Scuderia's private Fiorano test track in a two-year-old F2007 to circumnavigate the in-season testing ban - the final phase of his recovery from the fractured skull and serious head and eye injuries he received following a blow to the helmet from a rear suspension spring that had flown off the rear of the Brawn GP of compatriot Rubens Barrichello during the Q2 phase of qualifying at the Hungaroring on 25 July, knocking him momentarily unconscious and sending the Paulista into the tyre barriers.

Following emergency surgery to his left eye and the insertion of a metal plate, Massa began his convalescence, which stepped up a gear last week when he travelled from his homeland to Ferrari's Maranello headquarters to test himself on the team's simulator. After F1 governing body the FIA conducted a successful medical examination in Paris over the weekend, the 28-year-old was authorised to return to the cockpit.

Whilst a dream comeback in the inaugural, season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in just under three weeks' time has been all-but ruled out by his employers [see separate story - click here], the eleven-time grand prix-winner assured reporters that he felt as if he had never been away - and that he remains every bit the same driver who battled McLaren-Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton tooth-and-nail for the 2008 drivers' world championship crown all the way down to the very last corner of the Brazilian Grand Prix finale at Interlagos twelve months ago.

"Everything went well," Massa is quoted as having said by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport. "When I was in the car I felt fine physically, and it felt like the accident had never happened. I didn't have any problems with my vision, and I would be prepared to race in not just one but two races in a row.

"Obviously there is a timeline that needs to be respected and I'll take my time as a precaution, but having got in the car I can tell you I'm back to the same driver I was before the accident."

"I'm in good shape physically," he added, speaking to AFP, before quipping: "I'm the same bastard as before!"