Michael Schumacher's talent and ability will not have been faded by time, according to Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn.
Schumacher turned 41 last Sunday, and will be the oldest driver to race in Formula 1 since Nigel Mansell's abortive season with McLaren in 1995. But despite his age, Brawn believes that the seven-time champion's competitive edge will remain as sharp as ever, citing his performances in recent karting events, in which he has beaten the likes of Vitantonio Liuzzi, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa.
"I have got no doubts that the talent and the ability are still there," Brawn told AUTOSPORT. "You see little flashes of it when he takes part in competitions like the Race of Champions and karting races. They are not an absolute measure, but always the same guys win in them that win in F1. The guys that Schumacher beat in those events says a lot."
Brawn added that he does not doubt Schumacher's determination or enthusiasm for his return to F1 after three years in retirement. When he was in discussions with Schumacher about a possible return last year, he received assurances from the German that he was fully committed to racing again.
"We saw last year when he had the opportunity to drive for Ferrari that it re-lit the passion," said Brawn. "I asked him whether he really wanted to do it [come back], and he said that he did."
Schumacher will have his first run for Mercedes at Valencia in the first week of February, when preseason testing kicks off after the winter ban. It will be his first outing in a contemporary F1 car since he tested a Ferrari F2008 at Barcelona in April 2008 – his more recent Ferrari test having taken place in a two-year-old machine.