Michael Schumacher feels ‘like a child looking forward to Christmas’ such is his enthusiasm for his return to Formula One.

The new season is now just a week away, with next Friday marking the opening two practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

That is when the battle will begin in earnest, with the phoney war of the last few weeks in pre-season testing behind the teams.

For Schumacher, who confirmed just prior to Christmas he was ending three years in retirement and making a comeback at the age of 41, that is also when his reputation will be
back on the line.

The seven-times world champion exclaimed: ‘’Finally the season will start.

‘The decision to make my comeback feels like a long time ago now and I can hardly wait for the season to get under way in Bahrain.

‘It's funny to think I will be competing in Formula One again when just a few months ago, I would have categorically declined the opportunity.

‘But sometimes things change and the right circumstances come together. Now I feel fresher than I have for many years.

‘I am perfectly prepared physically, and most importantly my energy is back completely.

‘When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge.

‘It is the competition at the highest level that only Formula One offers which has provided the temptation for me.’

Despite a strong pre-season from his new Mercedes team, morphed from last year's world champions Brawn GP, Schumacher is so far unable to call who has the advantage.

McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes all appear to be at a similar level, with less than three tenths of a second separating the quartet on the final day of testing in Barcelona on Sunday.

Schumacher remarked: ‘It is always difficult to predict the form in pre-season testing, this year more than ever.

‘But the final test in Barcelona proved to us that we should be competitive.

‘We know we will have more new parts in Bahrain which should bring extra performance to the car.

‘It's important to be in the leading group from the start of the season, and I am confident we will be there.’