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Raikkonen’s Big Worry

Speculation over who will become Ferrari’s number one driver continues, with the Raikkonen ranks swelling after his win in Australia but the Massa devotees still expecting there to be a fight when their boy gets a car that doesn’t break in qualifying.

Kimi

Raikkonen in Australia

But I think Massa will be the least of Kimi’s worries at the moment – more to the point is that his engine temperatures shot up in the last few laps of the Australian GP. No damage was caused but it does put a question mark over the engine’s ability to survive another GP.

He could play safe by taking an engine change and the ten-position penalty that goes with it, of course. Which might be the wiser option, given the inevitability of Kimi qualifying on pole in Malaysia. No driver likes to have to fight his way to the front from tenth position but that shouldn’t be too big a problem for the Finn – he’s used to doing the same in an uncompetitive McLaren, after all.

The downside of the tactic is that it increases the risk of someone defending his position too vigorously and pushing Raikkonen off the track. But that is part of racing and can happen even if you’re leading and lapping an inattentive back marker. And how much more risky is it to start a race with an engine that was beginning to give trouble at the end of the last one? So I would say that Kimi should take the engine change and give us an entertaining drive through the field.

What, you think that Massa might be the fly in the ointment of that strategy? Get real – Felipe has improved out of all recognition in the last year, it’s true, but he is still not in the same class as Raikkonen. The Finn will come past him like a train and he won’t need team orders to do it.

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Thoughts on the Australian GP

As expected, Raikkonen won with ease, the Ferrari clearly the quickest car on this track and the driver one of the three fastest men in F1. Although the entire world is now expecting a Ferrari walkover this year, I am not convinced. The McLarens were good too and will get better.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen getting it done

Of course, the red team will improve their car as well but it is hard to better something that already seems just about perfect; go the wrong way and you could ruin it. And there are those lingering doubts about Kimi’s ability in testing – can he give the kind of input to the engineers that they had from Michael Schumacher? Massa will help with that but again I am unsure of his technical prowess.

I am also not all that impressed with Felipe’s drive through the field. When you have a car as superior to the rest as the F2007, it does not look all that good to be held up for lap after lap by a car as evil-handling as Button’s Honda. I’m sure Michael would have made short work of it.

Enough has been said already about Lewis Hamilton’s excellent race without me adding the same accolades; the lad is a star and will ensure that McLaren win the constructor’s title this year. Alonso is brilliant and will assist in the development of the car until it can beat the Ferraris so Ron Dennis has plenty to smile about at the moment, in spite of not winning this first race of the season.

The BMWs were not quite on the pace of the front runners and Renault were well off it. Both will improve with time, however, and may be able to challenge for the lead in later races.

The Hondas were awful, with Barrichello having the better time of it and expressing himself reasonably happy. Button thinks that the problem lies in the front aerodynamics but, judging from what Flavio Briatore had to say about the Bridgestones being the root cause of Renault’s difficulties, I would suspect that tires also have a lot to do with the Honda malaise. Hopefully, they will find a solution and be more competitive in future races.

Otherwise things went more or less to plan. The Toyotas were a bit better than we’d guessed, the Williams a bit worse. But which would you rather be sitting in for the next GP?

Finally, another word about Scott Speed: until his front tires deflated, he was well ahead of Liuzzi. Gerhard Berger was content with the Italian’s performance in this race – perhaps he will admit that the American seemed pretty “committed” too…

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A Thought or Two on Speed

With the off season nearly at an end, it is time to step back and make our predictions based on the testing we have all been following so avidly. Or so it seems, judging by the number of experts pronouncing the obvious.

Of course Ferrari look the team to beat and McLaren and Renault are their nearest competitors – anyone could work that out after a quick look at the timesheets from the various testing venues used. And it is hardly controversial to suggest that Massa will be faster than his teammate in 2007 – again, that is pretty clear from testing.

Speed

Speed – ambiguity intended

It is so easy to forget that this is just testing and that the truth will only emerge once the season gets underway. Many a team has been embarrassed by their race performance after having a brilliant winter and others come good after a race or two. That’s what makes for a great season, after all – the unpredictability of racing.

That is what I keep telling myself, anyway. F1 could really use a closely-fought championship with several drivers and cars battling for honors – so I hope that all the indicators are wrong and Ferrari will not have the enormous advantage in the races that is so obvious in testing.

But allow me to point at one last interesting fact from the final day of testing in Bahrain: Scott Speed’s 8th fastest time in the Toro Rosso. Not only was he quicker than the Red Bull duo (which must be incredibly frustrating for them) but he has also given an answer to Gerhard Berger’s doubts about his commitment. I stand by what I have said about Speed in the past – our resident American is much better than anyone gives him credit for.

But it also vindicates the psychological skills of that man, Berger…

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Ferrari Prepare for Launch

Toyota unveiled their T107 today and talked a great deal about the changes they have made and their hopes for the coming season. But a rash of news from Ferrari overshadows the Toyota hype and paves the way for the Italian team’s launch of their new car on Sunday. It’s almost too much information.

On the driver front, the paparazzi are already pursuing Raikkonen and managed to get a photo of him downing a glass of white wine. Well dang, can’t he wait for the champagne on the podium? It’s all a bit silly, of course, and Kimi has been settling in pretty well at his new team, enjoying the friendly atmosphere and firing off a few retaliatory shots at his former boss in response to Ron Dennis’ criticisms.

Michael

Massa seems to be enjoying all the attention and has had quite a lot to say, putting Michael Schumacher in the frame for a testing role, only to have Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari sporting director, haul him out again. Apparently the Brazilian is getting along fine with Raikkonen but admits that he will be one of his toughest challengers for the championship.

Apart from their driver line-up, the team are still sorting out just who will do what in the coming season. Michael keeps being mentioned for all sorts of jobs but will probably not attend many GPs, and Mario Almondo might miss a few as well. He is not a straight swap for Ross Brawn, apparently, and much of the immediate decision making will be made by Luca Baldisseri.

It all sounds strangely familiar, rather like the Ferrari of old, when battles for control of various aspects of policy and strategy absorbed most of the team’s energy. Everyone is smiling now but methinks I hear the sound of knives being sharpened. Oh, Montezemolo, what have you done?

Finally, there is news of the cars’ livery to be revealed on Sunday; there will be more white and the red will fade a little to resemble their Marlboro sponsor’s more orangey shade. White on a Ferrari? Now that is bad news for the commentators – does no-one remember how they used to be confused with the Dallaras and vice versa when their cars had a lot of white on them? Ah well, at least the Spykers will be orange…

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