The former world champion Michael Schumacher will next week drive a Formula One car for the first time in anger since October 2006, when he tests Ferrari's title-winning F2007 racer in Barcelona.
While the news has inevitably sparked rumours of a comeback for the man who won a record seven titles and 91 races, a Ferrari spokesman insisted: "It's half for pleasure, half for technical reasons."
Schumacher, 38, retired after last year's Brazilian GP, and had stayed out of the limelight since, though he attended several races this year as a Ferrari technical adviser. Commenting on suggestions on Monday that he might be McLaren's choice as Fernando Alonso's replacement, Lewis Hamilton said: "Great! Bring it on!"
The real reason may be that Ferrari wants his assistance in quantifying rule changes for 2008 which include a ban on traction control systems.
"Michael has a big experience in driving cars without traction control and electronic aids, so it makes sense for him to give his input," said Schumacher's spokeswoman, Sabine Kehm. Although Schumacher said in May he had no desire to step back into a Formula One car, Ferrari's team principal, Jean Todt, has made clear that the offer was always there.
"Todt said that if Michael had the desire to drive the car, he would be happy to fulfil it," said Kehm, adding that Schumacher would test next Tuesday and Wednesday at the Circuit de Catalunya.
He has not tested a car since he retired, though he did drive the F2007 for a few laps in the wet at Ferrari's Fiorano track at the end of last month to coincide with a visit of the board of the parent company, Fiat. He also drove an older car at the circuit in June as part of Ferrari's 60th anniversary celebrations.
In Spain on Monday he also rode Australian Casey Stoner's title-winning Ducati MotoGP bike. "I didn't come here to set a good time," he told the Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport after completing 58 laps.
Williams are due to confirm Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima tomorrow as their drivers for 2008.