With the three world championship protagonists taking a well-earned rest from the cockpit, the return of a seven-time champion will be the main attraction as Formula One's testing treadmill kicks back into action today [Tuesday].

With Kimi Raikkonen away enjoying the fruits of his labours in 2007 - and making the most of being champion lest he be stripped of the title by Thursday's FIA appeals committee - and both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso absent for different reasons - the Briton taking a rest and Alonso still locked in talks about where he will drive next year - Michael Schumacher's decision to temporarily suspend his retirement to try Ferrari's F2007 will grab the headlines at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Although he insists that he has no plans to make the comeback permanent - despite mischievous rumours to the contrary doing the rounds - Schumacher's input will be extremely useful as the Scuderia attempts to get its car honed without the aid of traction control, which has been banned for next year and will thus not feature during winter testing. Schumacher will partner regular test driver Luca Badoer on the opening day, with prot?g? Felipe Massa taking up the reins alongside the Italian from day two.

McLaren will be without a race pilot for the opening session of the off-season, giving star debutant Hamilton a rest - and time to promote his hastily-prepared biography - while employing reserves Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett to exercise the revised MP4-22. Both had been tipped to join the nascent Prodrive effort next season but, with doubt swirling about the Banbury outfit's entry pending a court hearing into the legitimacy of 'customer cars', de la Rosa and Paffett will be back in silver this week.

BMW, by contrast, will start at full strength, with both Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica on hand in Spain, a situation perhaps enforced by test driver Timo Glock's determination to land a race drive, ostensibly at Toyota, for 2008. With previous incumbent of the third seat, Sebastian Vettel, now ensconced at Toro Rosso, the Germano-Swiss team has few options without promoting fresh talent (or employing Ralf Schumacher?)

Renault will arrive in Barcelona under a cloud after being implicated in the second round of espionage scandals, but will remain focused on next season, perhaps even giving a hint to its line-up by running Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jr in tandem. The Finn had been suggested as a pawn in the attempts to re-sign Fernando Alonso, but any move to McLaren as makeweight in any deal appears to have faded and his appearance at Montmelo suggests that Flavio Briatore has lost patience with both Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella.

One of the alternatives open to the Spaniard, Red Bull Racing will run veteran David Coulthard alongside rookie Karun Chandhok, the Indian making use of his ties with Red Bull to build on his race-winning GP2 campaign.

Chandhok has been mentioned in connection with a seat at the renamed Force India operation, but attention at Vijay Mallya's team will initially focus on its new livery, which is expected to debut in Spain. Although essentially an interim colour scheme, the burgundy-and-white combination will be unusual for F1 and could give some clues to 2008. The team plans to run no fewer than five drivers over the three days in Barcelona, with Roldan Rodriguez, Giedo van der Garde, Tonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien joining Spyker regular Adrian Sutil.

Honda will also test young talent, with Luca Filippi and Andreas Zuber joining team protege and fellow GP2 regular Britain's Mike Conway in the garage at the Circuit de Catalunya. The trio will be joined by Jenson Button on Wednesday and Thursday.

Schumacher aside, however, perhaps the individual most under the spotlight this week will be four-time Champ Car king Sebastien Bourdais, who jets in from a victorious farewell in Mexico City to join Vettel at Toro Rosso. Despite running with the team on several occasions earlier this year, Barcelona will mark the Frenchman's first official outing as an F1 driver as he prepares for a belated race debut next season.

 

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