Ferrari boost as No 1 set to return

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER emerged from a smokescreen of his own creation yesterday to make the surprise announcement that he would be back for the final two rounds of the Formula One World Championship.

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER emerged from a smokescreen of his own creation yesterday to make the surprise announcement that he would be back for the final two rounds of the Formula One World Championship.

A week after ruling out a return this season because he felt he was still not fit enough to race, the German told Ferrari that he was ready to reclaim his seat for the grands prix in Malaysia tomorrow week and in Japan a fortnight later.

It now remains to be seen if he is able - and willing - to reclaim his place from stand-in Mika Salo to assist the cause of team-mate Eddie Irvine, who trails McLaren-Mercedes' Mika Hakkinen by two points in the contest for the title.

Schumacher's change of mind follows three days of intensive testing in Italy. The stint began alarmingly with a minor accident at Mugello on Monday and Schumacher admitted the incident brought back harrowing images of his crash at the British Grand Prix three months ago, which left him with a broken leg.

However, the German completed the day's work with a best lap of 1min 27.2 sec 1.3sec faster than Irvine's on the same circuit a week before. Schumacher moved on to Ferrari's test track at Fiorano and confirmed his fitness and pace over a further two days work. That satisfied him he was ready to return.

"I was still having problems with my knee last week and said all along I would not race until I felt I was fit enough," Schumacher said. "But after testing this week I feel I will be OK."

Cynics suggested he would not race again this season because he did not wish to help Irvine become champion. Schumacher has maintained all along he would comply with team instructions.

This development is bound to bolster the flagging morale in the Ferrari camp while Hakkinen, who has shown signs of nerves in the last two races, can scarcely be encouraged.

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