MICHAEL Schumacher would love to see Sebastian Vettel join a highly-exclusive club and become a three-in-a-row Formula One world champion.
At present just two drivers have achieved the feat in the 62 years of the sport - Schumacher himself from 2000 to 2004 and fellow legend Juan Manuel Fangio from 1954 to 1957.
Vettel goes into the season, which starts in Australia on Sunday, as a heavy favourite to win his third successive title after dominating the last two years, in particular 2011.
And as far as Schumacher is concerned, he would not begrudge the 24-year-old a place alongside himself and Fangio.
"Honestly, I'm very excited to see what Sebastian has achieved and will achieve in the future," said Schumacher, 19 years older than his fellow German.
"He is a good friend of mine I've known for so long. I supported him in his early days, and actually I'm very proud of him."
It promises to be a pivotal year for Schumacher, with team boss Ross Brawn already stating a successful season for the team will likely lead to the 43-year-old signing a new contract.
Schumacher is certainly not giving up on his dream of winning an eighth world title.
"We have our target, which is to make Mercedes a champion in the future," said Schumacher, who has yet to even step on to the podium in 38 races since his return two years ago.
"That's what we are all working hard for and why I came back, and obviously I wish to achieve that."
The car certainly looked solid and planted during the first two practice sessions ahead of Sunday's opening race in Australia.
The W03 is assisted by a new radical wing system deemed legal by the FIA, with technical head Charlie Whiting claiming the device is "completely passive" in that there are no moving parts which would otherwise have led to it being banned.
Operating in a similar way as to the F-duct of two years ago, the rear wing is stalled, which in turn allows greater straight line speed.
Team boss Ross Brawn, who pioneered the double diffuser in 2009 that proved crucial to Jenson Button's title triumph that year, has played down its importance.
"Innovation is the lifeblood of Formula One racing," said Brawn.
"We have an interesting system on the car, it's not complicated at all, I'm sure other teams are looking at it and they will need to decide if its worthwhile or not.
"But it's not in the same magnitude as the diffuser concept we had, or even the exhaust concepts the cars ran in the last few years.
"It's obviously helpful, and that's why we're doing it, but it's not a massive performance gain."
The 43-year-old Schumacher finished third quickest overall behind McLaren duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on a day disrupted by rain.
Schumacher did top the timesheet in second practice that was the worst hit by the weather, albeit 1.6secs behind Button.
Describing his day as "a nice start into a hopefully exciting season", Schumacher added: "It was certainly two promising sessions for us.
"However, I would not go so far as to speak about being confident as the weather conditions were too mixed to gain a clear picture.
"We know what Friday sessions are for and don't know what fuel loads others were running.
"On the other hand it is good to see we were competitive in different circumstances and that the car provides good handling - I just feel it."