Pain in neck is proving a problem for Schumacher

Injury from motorbike crash in February hampers German's race to be ready

Michael Schumacher has revealed a neck injury is giving him concern in the build-up to his planned Formula One return later this month.

Since confirming his comeback last Wednesday in place of the injured Felipe Massa, Schumacher has been working intently on his fitness. The seven-times world champion, who was behind the wheel of a 2007 Ferrari on Friday, has lost weight over the past few days. However, after a crash during a motorbike test in Spain in February when he damaged his back and neck, the 40-year-old is still experiencing some soreness.

"I'm currently in the midst of my preparations for the upcoming race," said Schumacher, who aims to be back on the track in Valencia on 23 August for the European Grand Prix. "I have already lost three kilograms, even if it is also important for me to build up muscles.

"All in all, the training is going pretty well, although I have to admit my neck pinches a bit. We have to get a grip on that as health has priority. That's the clear arrangement made with Ferrari and, by the way, with my wife [Corinna] too."

After almost three years in retirement, Schumacher is delighted at the support he has received over the past few days from fans. "I really would like to thank all my fans who are keeping their fingers crossed for my plans and for all the positive feedback," he added.

"It's incredible how much support I have been getting from all over the world. It feels as if a flush of positive energy is coming over me. I accepted the challenge and, as you all know, I love challenges. It seems as if my fans love them too."

Schumacher's return to Ferrari will be an education for some Formula One rivals, Bernie Ecclestone said yesterday. "I think he's going to give one or two of them a driving lesson," the Formula One rights holder told a news conference. "He obviously wouldn't have decided to come back unless he thought he was going to be competitive and Michael is a competitive guy."

His comeback will see McLaren's current world champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as Red Bull's title contender Sebastien Vettel – nicknamed "Baby Schumi" by his compatriots – race for the first time against the man who dominated the sport for a decade.

"He's always been super popular, even though he won too many races and people said he was boring. He was never boring and he won't be boring now," Ecclestone said. "I think I was just as surprised as Willi Weber [his manager] he didn't know he was coming back [either]. I think it was [Ferrari president] Luca di Montezemolo that convinced him."

Schumacher's preparations were hampered on Monday by the Red Bull and Williams teams who have opposed Ferrari's request to let the German test in Massa's F60 car prior to Valencia. Formula One regulations do not allow track testing during the season, although Schumacher completed 70 laps in a 2007 version Ferrari at Mugello near Florence last Friday. "Guess who opposed the test with the F60?" read a statement on Ferrari's website. "A team that hasn't won anything for years and yet didn't pass over the opportunity to demonstrate once more a lack of spirit of fair play."

Williams last won the constructors championship in 1997, when Canada's Jacques Villeneuve topped the drivers' standings for them, too.

Ferrari also hit back at Williams' and Red Bull's argument that Schumacher should be treated no differently than Spanish teenager Jaime Alguersuari, who was unable to track test his car before his Formula One debut for Toro Rosso in Hungary.

"Just for the record, the Scuderia Ferrari had given its approval to let Alguersuari test, but it seems even in this instance someone decided to stick to the precise wording of the regulations," it said.

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