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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 07:20 GMT 08:20 UK
The man Hamilton should fear
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor

Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari pit
Raikkonen has not lived up to his reputation this season
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo describes Kimi Raikkonen as the driver "everyone fears" - but the Finn has done little to justify that description this season.

The man regarded as the world's fastest racing driver has struggled to adapt to Ferrari following his move from McLaren as replacement for Michael Schumacher.

The 27-year-old has looked anything but the favourite for the world title, a status he enjoyed at the start of the season.

Limping from one disappointment to another, Raikkonen - signed on a reputed stratospheric salary of 25m - has been a tiger without teeth.

Yet Raikkonen's convincing victory in last Sunday's French Grand Prix suggested Lewis Hamilton's hopes of making history as the first rookie to win the world title may yet be facing a serious threat.

606: DEBATE
Certainly that is what Raikkonen hopes. And with Ferrari's car expected to have a slight advantage at this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Hamilton may need to be braced for a Raikkonen - and Ferrari - fightback.

As far as Hamilton is concerned, Raikkonen - and team-mate Felipe Massa - are the rivals he cannot control.

Hamilton's team-mate Fernando Alonso is the rival closest to him in the championship.

But formidable as he is, the Spaniard is in the same car as Hamilton, so unless the Englishman runs into problems, Alonso is unlikely to be able to make big inroads into his 14-point lead.

Kimi Raikkonen goes off on to the grass in Canada as team-mate Felipe Massa goes past behind him
Raikkonen's errors have let Massa become the leading Ferrari driver
Although Massa is a further three points adrift, and Raikkonen another five, Ferrari were in a different league from McLaren on their way to a one-two at Magny-Cours.

If that continues, Hamilton could be looking at third as a best-case scenario at each race - and will lose chunks of points at a time.

It is every man for himself at Ferrari, and Massa remains marginally the best-placed of their drivers in the championship.

But it is clear who is potentially the most dangerous Ferrari driver as long as the man Di Montezemolo calls "the real Raikkonen" has indeed finally emerged - there have already been murmurings from within the team that Raikkonen has forced them to re-evaluate their understanding of what is possible, even with Schumacher as their reference point.

Raikkonen's inconsistent form this year has gone a long way to underlining why, while he is regarded as the fastest driver in F1, it was Alonso who started this year regarded as the best (a position which will be under threat from Hamilton if things carry on as they are).

People always think that you've lost it when you don't have a good result

Kimi Raikkonen
While there is no doubt about Raikkonen's pace, his application out of the car is another matter - both at the circuit and away from it, where his fondness for what might euphemistically be called liquid refreshment is well known.

Raikkonen's dominant victory at the first race in Australia hid the problems he was having adapting to Ferrari - and particularli to Bridgestone's tyres.

Alonso had similar problems at McLaren, as the Japanese rubber is designed with a different philosophy from the Michelin tyres they had grown used to over the previous years and requires a fundamental change in driving style.

Those difficulties affected Raikkonen's performance in Malaysia and Bahrain, where he was off the pace.

Since the following race, Spain, he has been Ferrari's faster driver, but a broken suspension forced an early retirement in Barcelona.

Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen
Could Hamilton soon be fending off a Raikkonen title assault?
Then Raikkonen compromised his own performances to varying degrees with errors and lapses of concentration in the Monaco, Canada and US races, where Ferrari were anyway off McLaren's pace because of problems getting their tyres up to optimum temperature.

Nevertheless, a close examination of Raikkonen's pace before France had suggested that he was now on top of his new car and that another win was not far away, as long as Ferrari could erase McLaren's advantage.

And in France, where Ferrari's pace was improved dramatically by some significant developments that improved the way it worked its tyres, he proved it.

Raikkonen's race engineer, Chris Dyer, diplomatically describes his problems as part of the "natural process" of a driver fitting into a new team.

"It's just a constant process of trying to understand him better, trying to understand the car better and get the most out of both of them," Dyer says.

Raikkonen himself says: "We had a bit of a hard time but I kind of expected to have a bit of a difficult time.

It maybe took longer than we expected but we're kind of back in the right place now

Kimi Raikkonen
"So, OK, people always think that you've lost it when you don't have a good result but we just worked hard and try to get it right and I think we can still improve.

"In the last races [before France] we just couldn't get it together. I think it seems to have good speed now so we must keep it up in the next races."

That seems an eminently achievable aim. Hamilton says he expects McLaren to be more competitive at Silverstone than they were in France, but it is difficult to predict whether they will be a match for Ferrari.

On the one hand, the long, fast corners in the first half of the lap will favour the red car, but the slower, shorter ones later on will suit the dynamic direction change of the McLaren.

After Silverstone, there are a number of races that can be expected to favour Ferrari - Germany, Turkey, Italy, Belgium - but others that could suit McLaren.

Kimi Raikkonen gets his Ferrari sideways at Monaco
Raikkonen's is seen as arguably the fastest driver in the world
Certainly Raikkonen sees France as a watershed.

"We knew what our problems were," he said. "We try to improve all the time and I think the work is starting to pay off now. It maybe took longer than we expected but we're kind of back in the right place now.

"We just need to keep it up and improve."

Whether that will be enough to peg back Hamilton's lead is another matter, but at the very least an on-form Raikkonen would guarantee some drama trying.



SEE ALSO
Hamilton makes Silverstone pledge
02 Jul 07 |  Formula One
Ferrari revival thwarts Hamilton
01 Jul 07 |  Formula One
McLaren boss feels for Raikkonen
07 Jun 07 |  Formula One
Ferrari 'can regain early form'
21 Jun 07 |  Formula One
Raikkonen urged to get technical
24 Apr 07 |  Formula One
Raikkonen rues missed opportunity
18 Apr 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton outshines Raikkonen win
18 Mar 07 |  Formula One


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