BARCELONA, Spain, May 22, 2011 (AFP) - Two weeks after making his desultory exit from the Turkish Grand Prix, and talking of lost joy, Michael Schumacher appeared to have regained his swagger at the Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday.
As the final countdown to the Spanish Grand Prix began, the 42-year-old German hit back at suggestions that he is heading into retirement - and instead predicted he and the Mercedes team are set to trade triumphs in a wheel-to-wheel battle with champions Red Bull.
The seven-times drivers' world champion said: "Probably last year I wasn't where I wanted to be, but this year I would say nothing is missing. All the ingredients for success are here.
"Now, we have to arrange and optimise them. Then we will be on the go, just like Red Bull is now. I know that we will do it."
Schumacher's optimism flies in the face of the facts that suggest not only that he has been comprehensively out-paced by team-mate and fellow-German Nico Rosberg since he made his comeback last year, but that he is in an
Since he took his three-years 'retirement', Schumacher has scored a total of 78 points, never qualified better than fifth and not been on the podium.
He has been fourth three times - including last year's Spanish race - and it is now 25 races since he was last seen in the top three finishers. Schumacher is the only driver on the grid who took part in the first
'Catalan' Grand Prix 20 years ago.
There he finished sixth for Benetton in a race won by Nigel Mansell, for Williams, but was more famous for his side-by-side battle with Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna on the straight leading into the first corner.
On that stirring afternoon, current championship leader and defending champion German Sebastian Vettel was just a four-year-old boy while his nearest contemporary rival 2008 champion Briton Lewis Hamilton was a six-year-old schoolboy in Stevenage.
Hamilton, already on his way to a top karting career, became a great Senna fan while Vettel grew up to follow Schumacher's career - later being dubbed, to his embarrassment, the 'new Schumi'.
In Sunday's race, having already proved he is something much more than a copy of anyone else, Vettel will start from second on the grid for Red Bull, his team-mate Australian Mark Webber, 34, having ended his run of five straight poles by clocking the best time in Saturday's qualifying.
Hamilton qualified third and will have his old rival and former one-season-only McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso of Ferrari alongside him on the second row.
Schumacher, in his 272nd Grand Prix, will start from 10th after successfully reaching the top-ten shootout, but deciding not to use any tyres by clocking a time in Q3.
That left him to line up alongside Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams on row five - a six-year-old 21 years' ago.
"I have been racing long enough to understand that it takes at least three years to push a team to the very top," explained Schumacher."I know that good things come to those who wait. I am absolutely sure we are on the right track and that we are doing all we can to be successful in the end.
"I am aware, too, that there are many out there mouthing off about me, but I have been in the business long enough to know what is really important - to stay calm and work in a goal-oriented way on what we want to achieve.
"In reality everything happens so quickly in Formula One. If I have a good race here, who cares about Turkey two weeks ago? You have to free your mind and not ponder what might have been.
"It is useless to look back. You have to concentrate all your energy on your goals."