Kimi Räikkönen heads to Melbourne in confident mood
Finnish driver anticipates stiff resistance from Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa
By Siri Markula
Kimi Räikkönen does not appear overly concerned, in spite of the fact in recent statements a good many motor sport pundits have rated his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa as quite as much a candidate for this year's Formula One driver's world championship title.
The latest name to come out and tip the Brazilian for the crown was none other than F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, in an interview with the German paper Bild.
"I'm certain the competition is going to be tough, but I don't believe there will be any great problems", commented Räikkönen when he met with Finnish journalists in Helsinki on Thursday.
"Massa has always been quick, and he certainly did not make a bad fist of fighting against Schumi [Michael Schumacher] last season."
During their testing sessions on the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, ahead of next Sunday's season opener in Melbourne, Ferrari only had one car equipped with all the latest aerodynamics and other hardware.
Hence the times that were set are not always fully comparable. Massa in any event posted the fastest times and broke the lap record on the final day, as Ferrari dominated proceedings.
"The main thing is that we know ourselves exactly what went on there", says Räikkönen calmly.
In winter testing, the Ferraris did not look to be setting the pace, but by the close of the Bahrain shakedown session the stable had emerged as the team to beat this season.
One competitor after another has stepped forward and dumped championship pressures onto the Italian team's shoulders.
"It's rather difficult to say how we'll go elsewhere, but it is hardly likely that the pace we showed [in Bahrain] is going to vanish into thin air. We've definitely good a very strong package, but others can do the same", reasoned Räikkönen.
He anticipates that his old team McLaren will put up a strong fight at the Australian GP in Melbourne. Renault, too, began to show a good turn of foot towards the end of the Bahrain stint, with Heikki Kovalainen working his way up and posting the second-fastest time on the final day.
Like many others in the sport, Räikkönen also lifts BMW-Sauber into the role of "the team most likely to spring a surprise".
Räikkönen only began his own testing programme in January, but he says the timetable has been perfectly adequate.
"Basically I could have limited it just to Bahrain. It was the only place where we could really achieve anything, becuase the weather there was great."
Ferrari have concentrated in their test programme on driving full race-distances and ensuring the car's reliability.
The Finnish driver believes that a car developed in this way will also be quick in qualifying.
In addition, this season the drivers will benefit from changes to the Friday practices: they will now have a total of three hours on the track to find the right settings, both for Saturday qualifying and the race itself.
Räikkönen was not willing or able to compare this year's Ferrari with the McLaren-Mercedes he drove in 2006.
He argued that the changes that have been made to the tyres - there will be a Bridgestone monopoly now that Michelin have withdrawn from F1 racing, and FIA have also made changes to the rules on which tyre compounds can be used and when - render such comparisons pointless. In any event, the Ferrari appears very competitive.
"At least it feels good. Then again, when you haven't driven for three months, more or less anything feels quick", grinned Räikkönen. "The first test sessions are always about getting used to things."
Ice-Man Räikkönen had the journalists laughing when a reporter from the late-edition tabloid Iltalehti asked him how he had physically prepared himself for the new season.
"Hey, I read all about that in your paper", Räikkönen tossed back with a broad grin. The remark was in reference to an article in Iltalehti reporting his visit to a Helsinki karaoke bar.
Turning more serious, Räikkönen told the reporters that his preparations had gone as smoothly as before, though he admitted that a good deal of his time in recent weeks had been spent behind the wheel on testing.
"There again, that is always the best preparation there is. I haven't had much time to do anything else."
Räikkönen heads off to Australia only on Sunday [March 11th], while for instance Heikki Kovalainen left for Melbourne on Thursday evening.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.3.2007
Previously in HS International Edition:
Heikki Kovalainen is not worried by the doubters (27.2.2007)
SIRI MARKULA / Helsingin Sanomat