Next year's Formula One season just got a whole lot harder for its drivers -- and a whole lot more interesting for the sport's legion of worldwide fans.
Michael Schumacher, Formula One's all-time champion with an unprecedented seven titles, confirmed widespread speculation and announced today that he will come out of retirement to race again with the new Mercedes GP team.
Saying he "was feeling like a 12-year-old boy who is jumping from excitement," Schumacher -- who will be 41 when the series opens with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 14 -- said he signed a three-year contract with the Mercedes team.
One of the team's leaders is Ross Brawn, who was Schumacher's technical director when the German driver was winning his championships, including five at Ferrari. Brawn this year had formed his own team, Brawn GP, whose driver Jenson Button won the championship.
Button has since moved to the McLaren team, and Mercedes took over the Brawn GP team that will now have Schumacher and fellow German Nico Rosberg as its drivers.
"True, I will be 41 years old, but the combination of Ross and Mercedes is something that I believe in -- and I believe in myself as well," said Schumacher, who had retired after the 2006 season.
Schumacher this summer had planned to replace injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa but had to cancel that move because of a neck injury he suffered early in the year in a motorcycle accident. But Schumacher said today that "the neck is no longer an issue."
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: Michael Schumacher, left, and Mercedes GP technical chief Ross Brawn announce Schumacher's return to Formula One at the Mercedes team's facility in Brackley, England. Credit: Mercedes-Benz Motorsport