Mercedes GP team boss Ross Brawn is convinced Michael Schumacher will be at his very best when he returns to Formula 1 racing this year. The seven-time World Champion is back into grand prix racing over three years after his retirement from the sport in 2006.
Although there are still questions about how competitive the 41-year-old will be, Brawn has no doubt that the "old Schumacher" will be back as soon as the racing begins.
"I think so, yes," said Brawn during the launch of the Mercedes team's official colors in Stuttgart. "I think there's lots of analysis that show the peak of your physical condition is in your 30s. It depends on the sport and Michael is achieving the parameters he was achieving when he was younger, in terms of his training, endurance, stamina and strength. He's already reaching the parameters he was achieving many years ago.
"So, I don't see any problem at all. He's an exceptional athlete, you must remember that. And because of the attributes you need to race a car... it's not like he's a runner or any other type of sportsman. There's nothing in a car that wears out parts of your body. It's just down to your stamina and strength, so I fully expect Michael to be able to cope with any demands I make of him."
He added: "Talking about Michael, the raw talent doesn't disappear. What normally happens with drivers is they lose the physical ability to compete. F1 is a very physical sport, so they lose the physical capacity and they lose the determination that you need to compete at every race, every minute of the day, and every lap of the circuit. What I saw with Michael was that he had been refreshed by his break – and I've had that experience myself of having a sabbatical. I know that reminds you of the good things, the things you miss. And I think you saw today he is looking incredibly quick and he is looking far younger than his 41 years. So I don't think the physical side is a problem. He has shown amazing determination and commitment already. He has been to the factory many days, working with the engineers, and I don't think the talent disappears.
"If the talent eases off a little bit, you have the huge experience that he has to compensate. So I think put all those elements together. He has a tremendous work ethic, and he would not do this unless he was convinced that he can do the job – and I am convinced he can do the job. And, I've seen a already an amazing commitment and it reminded me of the old Michael Schumacher."
While Brawn admits no one will know how strong Schumacher is until the first race, the team boss reckons there is no reason to believe the German has lost any of his abilities.
"Well, yes, it's true that none of us will know until he starts competing again at what level he will be. But if you look at it the other way around, why shouldn't he be at the level he was at? In the latter part of 2006 he did some of his strongest races, so there's no reason not to believe.
"Every driver, when they finish a season and they go into the next season, they start again, with the belief that they are going to perform, and we have absolute belief that Michael is going to perform. I don't know if it will take a race of two to get to the level he will want to achieve. I personally don't think so. I think Michael will perform at a very high level straight away. There is no reason not to believe."