Disgraced former Formula 1 team principal Flavio Briatore believes that Michael Schumacher's chances of making a winning return to the sport hinge entirely on the competitiveness of the new Mercedes Grand Prix team in 2010.
Briatore, who was team principal at Benetton when the German won his first two World Championship titles with that team in 1994 and '95, says that Schumacher would not have come back if he didn't believe he could win and that much depends on the car he is given to race with.
"I think it's a good thing for F1 (that he's returned)," Briatore told Gazzetta dello Sport. "Knowing him, I think he's reflected on it for a long time, and if he's decided to come back it's because he's convinced he can still be quick.
Asked if he thought Schumacher's age would be a factor, Briatore replied: "If you have a race-winning car, it doesn't matter much. The last season demonstrates this clearly, because the driver who's become World Champion is certainly not the best on the scene."
Briatore added that he always felt Schumacher had retired before he was ready to do so. "I'm convinced that, had he been physically fit, he would have come back last season already with Ferrari," said Briatore. "Michael belongs to that category of racing drivers who just can't have a normal life, who can't stay away from racing. And besides, I'll repeat an old idea of mine: when he quit three years ago, he wasn't ready to retire, he could have been competitive for two or three more seasons."
Briatore said he could not predict whether Schumacher was capable of challenging for another world title. "Well, I don't know that," said. "For instance, I believe that Ferrari will be extremely strong next year with Alonso and Massa. I'll just say that Ross [Brawn] knows him well and that Mercedes has always chased him. But then I repeat: the car is fundamental."