Schumacher impresses during F1 testing

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher today admitted feeling like a little kid on his return to Formula One.

After more than three years in retirement, the seven-times champion was back, only this time in the unusual guise of Mercedes' 'Silver Arrow' after 14 seasons of Ferrari red.

After team-mate Nico Rosberg completed most of the initial set-up work on the opening day of the first test at Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit, Schumacher finally hit the track with just 94 minutes of the day-long session remaining.

His return has sparked unrivalled media interest in a test, with as many photographers, camera crews and journalists in attendance as for a grand prix.

Naturally, the moment of the day was when he rolled the Mercedes W01 out of the team's garage at 15.26pm local time, sparking a frenzy amongst the photographers and cameramen.

The 41-year-old certainly belied his age, completing 40 laps of the four kilometre track in three separate stints, noticeably eclipsing Rosberg in the second of those.

Come the conclusion Schumacher finished third quickest of the eight drivers on show today, with his best lap one minute 12.947seconds, just 0.373secs behind former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa on his own return to the sport.

In fact, it proved to be a day for the comeback kings as Pedro de la Rosa, now with Sauber after years as a tester for McLaren and whose last race was also Brazil '06 along with Schumacher, split Massa and the legendary German.

All eyes, though, were on Schumacher who surprised himself at how he felt upon climbing back into the cockpit of an F1 car.

"In a way it's like 1991, honestly," said Schumacher.

"When I came into Formula One I was shocked in the first lap, then I was extremely excited in the second and further laps.

"Exactly today I feel like a little young boy that has his toy in his hands and just enjoys himself."

Given the 14 seasons he spent at Ferrari, including 11 as a driver during which time he won five of his titles, understandably there was a pang of emotion when he saw close friend Massa in his car.

"It was a strange sensation seeing my old car on the track and me not sitting in it," added Schumacher.

"But it's good to see my brother on track, in the car, and I look forward to seeing my friends down at Ferrari some time this week."

Assessing his own car, one that is an evolution of last season's Brawn GP that won both the constructors' and drivers' titles, the wily veteran was giving little away.

"I think we have done a very good job," remarked Schumacher, who insisted there were no lingering problems with a neck injury that forced him to abort last year's return with Ferrari.

"The guys have done a superb job. We made a few control checks and the car ran reliably.

"We did about 80 laps, if I am correct, and for the first day that is a superb job."

Asked whether he felt he had a car that could fight for the title, he coyly stated: "I hope so, but we have to prove that."

For Massa his return was also special, not least as he definitively proved there are no lingering after-effects following his crash in qualifying for last year's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Massa required life-saving surgery and a metal plate inside into his skull, the scar from which is clearly visible above his left eye.

"I'm now 100% ready to return to racing," said Massa, who completed the most laps of the day, 103, with his quickest a 1:12.574.

"I was zero afraid, and Hungary did not come into my mind at all.

"I'm happy to be back after such a long time watching the races on television, and sometimes at the track.

"I feel very good from a physical point of view. I did 100 laps, but I could have done much more.

"After the difficult time I had it's always nice to get back on the track and be competitive. For me, today was normal."

Rosberg had to settle for the fourth best time of the day, over 0.6secs adrift of Schumacher and nearly a second behind Massa.

McLaren tester Gary Paffett was fifth, followed by the Williams of Rubens Barrichello, Sebastien Buemi who only managed 18 laps in his Toro Rosso due to a gearbox issue, and then Renault's Robert Kubica.