By Jonathan Noble
Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, plans to come out of retirement as Felipe Massa's replacement at Ferrari from the European Grand Prix.
Following days of speculation about who would slot in alongside Kimi Raikkonen following Massa's Hungarian GP crash, Ferrari issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon confirming that Schumacher was being prepared for the role.
The statement said that Schumacher was 'ready' to make his F1 return, and would undertake a training programme over the next few days to ensure he was up to full fitness for an F1 race.
The German, who quit F1 at the end of 2006, injured himself in a motorbike accident earlier this year and the team want to make sure there are no hidden problems before confirming his position.
Schumacher has previously baulked at the idea of returning to F1 full-time, but with Massa looking likely to return when he is back to full fitness, and Ferrari in need of a top-line driver, the opportunity is one that has attracted him.
"The most important thing first: thank God, all news concerning Felipe is positive. I wish him all the best again," said Schumacher.
"I was meeting this afternoon with Stefano Domenicali and Luca di Montezemolo, and together we decided that I will prepare myself to take the place of Felipe.
"Though it is true that the chapter of Formula 1 has been completely closed for me for a long time, it is also true that for loyalty reasons to the team I cannot ignore that unfortunate situation. But as the competitor I am, I also very much look forward to facing this challenge."
Once Schumacher gets the green light, it will be the first time he has raced alongside Kimi Raikkonen, as the pair bid to secure Ferrari third place in the constructors' championship.
It also comes at a time when Ferrari's F60 appears to have made good progress on the track, and its KERS could prove to be an advantage in the forthcoming races at Valencia, Spa, Monza and Singapore.
Schumacher has not tested the current F60, and has not driven since April 2008 when he ran an F2008 at Barcelona.
The announcement of Schumacher's plans comes 24 hours after his manager Willi Weber totally ruled out the possibility of the German racing in Valencia.
"Whoever sits in the car at the next race in Valencia, it will not be Michael Schumacher. I am not 100 per cent sure; I am 200 per cent sure," Weber was quoted as saying by The Daily Mail.
"The pressure on him would be huge. He would be expected to win, but he has not driven this car. When Michael was racing he would get as close to perfection as possible. In this case, it would not be perfection; it would be a gamble - and that's not Michael's style."