Raikkonen back in F1 title hunt

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/f/ferrari2_ap.jpg' class='caption'> Kimi Raikkonen won the first F1 race of the season and immediately felt the great expectations Ferrari has for him as Michael Schumacher's replacement.

Updated: July 13, 2007 14:18 IST
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Kimi Raikkonen won the first Formula One race of the season and immediately felt the great expectations Ferrari has for him as Michael Schumacher's replacement.

That pressure made the slump he experienced in the next three months all the more difficult for one of the world's highest paid athletes.

But the Finn won two races in eight days to revive his title chances and make his struggles a distant memory.

"The Iceman," as he is known because of his cool temperament, has a simple explanation for his latest victory over the McLarens.

"We were first and they were second."

After nine races, he is third in the standings but gaining on Lewis Hamilton, the sensational rookie at McLaren who has 70 points. Fernando Alonso, Hamilton's teammate, has 58. Raikkonen jumped over teammate Felipe Massa, 52-51.

Of the four, Raikkonen is the only driver with three victories.

Raikkonen came over from McLaren last year burdened with a lot of hope and disappointment. He was second in the season standings in 2003 and 2005, pushing Schumacher to the last race in 2003 and losing to Fernando Alonso in 2005.

McLaren and Raikkonen went winless in 2006, and it had been known since late 2005 that Alonso would move from Renault to McLaren in 2007.

After months of speculation, Raikkonen signed with Ferrari last September when Schumacher announced his retirement at the Italian Grand Prix.

Although Formula One salaries are closely guarded, Raikkonen is paid more than US$50 million a year for three years, according to F1 Racing magazine.

Alonso reportedly earns US$22 million despite his two world titles.

Schumacher started at about US$25 million for Ferrari and went on to win five straight driving titles for the team.

It appeared that Ferrari was getting a return on its investment when Raikkonen had the pole position and then the victory at the Australian Grand Prix.

"Of course it is a special moment," he said after the win. "With a new team, everything new, and we can win in the first race so, it is ideal. At least people will not ask when you are going to win. ... I am really happy with the team, and how things are going with the people."

But Raikkonen and Ferrari couldn't build on the strong start. Two thirds followed the victory, a dropout at the Spanish Grand Prix due to electrical problems and three consecutive finishes out of the top three.

Raikkonen even had an engine problem and had to start 16th at the Monaco GP and finished eighth.

Massa looked to be taking over as Ferrari's top driver with two victories and four pole positions in eight races.

Gaining in confidence

Then changes to the car began to show results and Raikkonen gained confidence after a good test at Silverstone ahead of the French Grand Prix.

"It wasn't that we lost something. Maybe we just didn't get everything out of the car," Raikkonen said.

Ferrari went 1-2 at the French Grand Prix with Raikkonen overtaking Massa at the second pit stop with Massa complaining of traffic problems.

Raikkonen was encouraged by the good form.

"We didn't expect to have the problems that we had in the last few races, so I think we are back where we expected to be," he said.

At the British Grand Prix last weekend, it was more of the same. After the second pit stop, he overtook Alonso, who also complained about traffic hindering his chances.

Alonso was also realistic.

"I think the Ferrari was a little bit too quick," Alonso said. "At the end, I don't think the result would change too much."

Raikkonen's modest winning streak is his best since he won in Hungary and Turkey in 2005. That is a good sign as Hungary and Turkey follow the next race in Germany on July 22.

He says it is just a matter of locations from now on in the eight races remaining in the season.

"We seem to have good speed right now, but I also think it depends a lot on the circuit conditions and the places where we go," Raikkonen said. "But I'm pretty happy now with the car."

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