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Schumacher impresses for Merc

VALENCIA, February 2 – German Formula One legend Michael Schumacher admitted he felt like a kid with a new toy as he took his Mercedes car out for the first time here on Monday ahead of his official return to the sport after a three-year absence.Dozens of fans, photographers and journalists watched as the seven-time world champion completed 40 laps on the Ricardo Tormo de Cheste circuit during the first free practice session of the season.

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

"When I came into F1, I was shocked in the first lap and I was extremely excited at the second and further lap. It’s exactly the same today. I feel today like a young boy that has a toy in his hand and just enjoys himself."

The German clocked the third fastest lap time of 1min 12.947sec behind Brazilian Ferrari driver Felipe Massa (1:12.574) and Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa of Sauber (1:12.784).

Wearing a red helmet, Schumacher admitted it was a strange feeling not to be lining up with his old Ferrari team.

"Yes, naturally I suddenly see my car, my old car on the track and I’m not sitting in it. It’s a strange sensation," he said.

"But it’s good to see my brother (Ralf who is a test driver for Ferrari) on track, in the car. I’ll enjoy seeing my friends down at Ferrari some time this week."

Mercedes took over Brawn GP, with whom Britain’s Jenson Button won the 2009 world drivers’ title, following the end of last season.

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It has led to Schumacher teaming up again with former team owner Ross Brawn, the 55-year-old Briton who was in Schumacher’s pits for all seven of his world title wins – two at Benetton and five at Ferrari.

Brawn is now responsible for making sure Mercedes’ Silver Arrow car is in perfect condition when the season starts.

Schumacher said: "The guys have done a superb job being out there just making a few control checks today and run the car reliable. We have done 18 laps, if I’m correct. For the first day, I think that is a superb job."

Having retired in 2006, Schumacher, 41, broke a three-year hiatus to sign a three-year contract to race for Mercedes.

And he has made no secret of his desire to win an eighth world drivers’ championship title with Brawn as team principal at Mercedes and Nico Rosberg as his team-mate.

"I feel very good. I have worked out very well. I have prepared myself extremely precisely. For the best result," said Schumacher, whose return to Formula One last year was hampered by a neck injury.

And his decision to wear a red helmet has nothing to do with his former Ferrari team, he insisted.

"Because it’s me, that’s my sign. At a time, there was a completely different reason why I chose this colour. Nothing to do with Ferrari. That’s me. That’s what I am."

The first race of the season is the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 14.

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