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Michael Schumacher targets F1 title with Mercedes team

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Michael Schumacher on his 2010 title hopes

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Stuttgart

Michael Schumacher is adamant he can battle for the world championship in his first season out of retirement.

The 41-year-old is returning to Formula 1 with new team Mercedes after a three-year spell away from the sport.

"I am convinced Mercedes will be in a position to fight for the championships this season," said Schumacher.

Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn added: "He is incredibly fit and I don't think the talent disappears. I'm convinced he can do the job."

Brawn masterminded all of Schumacher's seven world titles - two with Benetton and five with Ferrari - and insists the German can reach the same heights again.

"Racing drivers tend to lose the physical ability to compete and the determination that you need to compete at every race, every minute of the day," said Brawn.

"What I saw with Michael is that he has been refreshed by his break - as I was during my sabbatical (in 2007).

"He looks far younger than 41. I don't think the physical side is a problem. If the talent eases off he has huge experience. He has a tremendous work ethic.

None of us will know until he starts competing again what level he will be - but why should he not be at the level he was at before?

Ross Brawn

"In training, he's achieving the parameters that he was reaching before, so I don't see any problem at all.

"He is an exceptional athlete. It's not as if the joints wear out from driving the car. There's no knee problems and there is nothing in the racing car that breaks down your body.

"None of us will know until he starts competing again what level he will be - but why should he not be at the level he was at before?

"His latter part of 2006 were some of his strongest races. There is no reason not to believe.

"Each season a driver starts again with the belief that they will perform. I think he will perform at high levels straight away."

Schumacher, who joins a Mercedes team born out of last year's victorious Brawn GP outfit, said he had no concerns about the neck injury that prevented him making a temporary return to F1 last summer as a stand-in for the injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa.

Michael Schumacher poses with Mercedes's Silver Arrow F1 livery on a 2009 Brawn
The new Mercedes will race in the company's traditional racing silver

Then, he discovered that an injury sustained in a motorcycle crash last winter had not healed sufficiently to enable him to withstand the high G-forces in an F1 car.

But at the Mercedes F1 launch in Stuttgart on Monday, Schumacher said: "You're questioning the neck - there are no issues.

"I've nothing to prove to anybody about my age or anything. I just have to prove to myself that I'm still able (to do it).

Schumacher still special - Brawn

"The main reason (I'm back) is that I feel thrilled about it - I feel an excitement to drive at the highest level of motorsport. Now I feel again, why not something at the high level?"

Schumacher is the oldest driver to compete in F1 since Nigel Mansell made a brief comeback in 1994, also at the age of 41 - and the German will quickly surpass the Englishman's age as the year progresses.

Last year's F1 season was one of the most competitive in history, and three other teams are expected to battle at the front with Mercedes in 2010 - Red Bull, McLaren and his former team, Ferrari.

That is much more competition than Schumacher generally faced throughout his career, but he rejected suggestions he would find it tougher against the new generation of talent such as McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

Nico is such an exciting prospect and he'll enjoy working with Michael

Ross Brawn

"The point is that you are probably comparing to the past (when there was) one team that was able to compete - there are two or three teams now," Schumacher said.

"But you have to pick a point and focus. Last year was a bit of an exception - and it could be again - but you are there to win whoever you have to beat.

"Whether the drivers are young or experienced - it doesn't matter. You don't look how old you are - you just look how to be better than the others."

Mercedes have been an engine supplier in Formula 1 since 1993 but this year will be the first time they have raced their own car since 1955.

They have bought the Brawn team that last year won the drivers' and constructors' championship in their debut season, after former owner Honda quit F1.

They chose to launch the team at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart on Monday even though the car they will race this season was not ready.

The car on show was one of last year's Brawn cars in the new 2010 colour scheme.

The new Mercedes car will break cover in a test at Valencia in Spain on 1-3 February, with Schumacher's team-mate Nico Rosberg set to be the first man at the wheel.

Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher at the launch of the 2010 Mercedes racing colours
Mercedes chose to do their launch with a 2009 Brawn painted silver

Brawn said the plan was to have both both drivers try out the car on the first day of the three-day test, with Rosberg probably driving on the second day and Schumacher on the third.

"We only have four tests (before Bahrain) and we need the maximum amount of time (to prepare the car)," Brawn said.

"The performance of the car is the priority and this is just the launch of the team."

Rosberg initially signed to move to the Brawn team, before the Mercedes takeover was confirmed and before there was any public discussion of Schumacher's return.

The 24-year-old German said his new situation was a "dream come true", adding: "Having Michael as a team-mate is really great."

SARAH HOLT BLOG

Former BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld has been linked to the role of test and reserve driver, but Brawn would not confirm the 32-year-old German's appointment.

"We're working on the third driver," he said, "it's not finalised yet. It's not been our greatest priority but I think there will be some news in the next week or so."

Mercedes' decision to buy its own team at a time when other car manufacturers have pulled out of F1 amid the global economic crisis has drawn some criticism in Germany.

But Norbert Haug, the company's sports boss, said its F1 budget for 2010 was a quarter of what it was five years ago.



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see also
Mercedes promise Rosberg equality
25 Jan 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher feels as good as ever
20 Jan 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher 'very happy' with test
14 Jan 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher signs up for F1 return
23 Dec 09 |  Formula 1
Reaction to Schumacher's return
23 Dec 09 |  Formula 1


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