Schumacher ready to take on new challengers

Sunday will be his first race since 2006 and first against compatriot Sebastian Vettel. (AP)

Michael Schumacher is raring to go racing again, and the rest of Formula One is just as keen to have him back.

One of four world champions on what promises to be the most competitive starting grid in years when the action starts in Bahrain on Sunday, the 41-year-old German has come out of retirement to test himself against a new crop of talent. "I feel like a child looking forward to Christmas," said the seven times champion.

"I can hardly wait for the season to get under way."

It has all the makings of a classic clash but the former Red Baron will still have his work cut out to kick off his comeback with an immediate win for the 'Silver Arrows', the first Mercedes works team since 1955.

Sunday will be his first race since 2006 and first against compatriot Sebastian Vettel and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as a renewal of combat with old foes Fernando Alonso and new champion Jenson Button.

It will be Germany against Britain, young guns against an old master with plenty of other subplots written in.

Commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone is already rubbing his hands in anticipation. "I feel fresher than I have for many years," added Schumacher, winner of a record 91 races and team mate to compatriot Nico Rosberg, son of former champion Keke.

"When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty.

"Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge."

Schumacher won with Ferrari at Sakhir in 2004, and his lap record will stand the test of time now that the circuit has been lengthened since last year, but that will count for little now.

Button, who has joined Hamilton at McLaren in what is the sport's first pairing of champions since Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the same team in 1989, has looked relaxed pre-season with his move from title-winners Brawn (now Mercedes).

He also faces a big challenge in a team that has appeared moulded around Hamilton but he too is up for it. "Change is difficult for all of us, but it's also exciting. I've spent so much time at the factory, more than I have in any of my previous years. I've really got to know people, and it's been really good.

"So I feel at home after two months, which is crazy to say that, but I do, and I go to the first race ready to put in a good performance."

 

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