Formula One: Schumacher hopeful of improvement as bell tolls

He may have no realistic hope of adding to his six victories at the Italian Grand Prix, but Michael Schumacher said on Friday that he is optimistic ahead of Sunday's final Formula One race in Europe this year.

The 43-year-old German, besieged by rumours claiming he will retire at the end of the season, for a second time, almost laughed at the latest suggestions that he has chosen to leave again.

Instead, he said he is fully focused on this year's running of the classic event that started in 1922 -- and hoping to give his Italian fans, who backed him at Ferrari for many years, plenty to cheer this weekend.

Schumacher, who was fastest for Mercedes in Friday morning's opening free practice session said: "We were able to do good work with the car all day long and that is important for us.

"It looks reasonably promising considering the last two races so I am hoping for a strong showing and a good position."

Mercedes have not had a podium finish since the seven-time champion finished third in the European Grand Prix at Valencia in June.

He added: "The package we have developed here seems to be more in harmony with the track so we can hope for a better position. I feel good about it."

Schumacher experienced problems with his car's Drag Reduction System (DRS) in the afternoon free session, when he wound up 10th, but said he did not believe that this held him back.

He said: "It does help the speed and make you go quicker in lap-time, but we focused on long runs.

"It [DRS] is not important today. The main focus was on the long runs. The long runs were reasonably good. Straight away the car felt good in my hands and I felt confident."

For Schumacher, Monza represents a catalogue of personal memories dating back from his first race at the circuit, with Benetton after a controversial overnight switch from Jordan, in 1991 to his current bid for a final glorious hour in the sun.

Along the way, he has taken part in 16 Italian Grands Prix, winning five -- all with Ferrari -- and finishing second twice and third once. He also has three poles at Monza and has twice recorded the fastest race lap.

His last Monza win, with Ferrari, came in 2006, the year he made his first 'retirement' from Formula One.

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