Raikkonen on the eve of his first race for Ferrari
Melbourne - The start of the Formula One world championship is just around the corner. As per tradition, Melbourne will be the setting for the curtain raiser. The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will field a new car in Australia, the F2007, as well as a new driver in Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn will make his Prancing Horse debut at Albert Park. "Quite a nice circuit", declared Kimi, "and one on which I have obtained good results, though I have never had a trouble-free weekend".
The Maranello team head into the opening race with a dense program of testing behind them. However, bad weather often interrupted proceedings: "In truth we only really managed to test in Bahrain, the only place where the weather allowed us some continuity. All the squads faced the same conditions and could do nothing about it but, in the end, we were able to complete our planned schedule of work. We couldn't have done any more".
The Ferrari driver also revealed how he had approached the test sessions: "We did not focus on qualifying performance but on the race set up and reliability. Each track is different and we will make the most of the Friday and Saturday free practice sessions to get the car right. I can safely say that the car handled well overall but it does better with little fuel on board".
Some in the know have speculated on the reasons why Felipe Massa has been quicker the Kimi over the winter: "I am not concerned and I knew anyway that Felipe was quick. It will be close between the two of us but I don't think there will be any problems as the smooth relationship between Felipe and Michael proved". In Raikkonen's opinion, Massa's driving style compared to his does not differ greatly though "we have some differences in regulating the car, there is less difference than there has been with other drivers in the past".
There have been some changes made to the Formula 1 rules this year, among them the chance to use different engines on Friday and the rest of the weekend. There will also be a single tire supplier and the obligation to use both compounds available to the teams: "This new rule on the engines simplifies things", declared Raikkonen, "as we can complete many more laps. Also, the fans will see more exciting races. As regards the tires, four new compounds are supplied during the year and we will be able to choose from two at each Grand Prix, one soft and one hard. In Bahrain we did well with both and the choice will be limited to which tire to use for longest during the race". The watching public will also have something to cheer on the tire front: the tire walls will be colored differently depending on the type in use. This will make it easy to recognize the compounds used during the weekend.
With the start of the season fast approaching, it is only natural to ask Raikkonen if he thinks he has a car that can compete for the title: "I cannot say too much as the real test will come in the race and that is still to come. The season is a long one and so I will only be able to reply at the end of the year".
Many other teams have said that the Scuderia seems in good shape but Kimi does not get carried away: "It is hard to say. Even though things went well in Bahrain we cannot make predictions as to what will happen on the other tracks. What is for sure is that our pace will remain fast but this does not mean that the others will not be able to catch up". We should have some feedback in Australia and I do not expect any surprises - BMW and McLaren will be our closest rivals. I do not know how Renault are faring as they did very well on the final day in Bahrain but did not show the same form in winter".
The Ferrari driver stresses that, in general, timed laps in private sessions do not fully reflect the type of work carried out. This is especially true when comparing teams. "If a team suddenly performs very well, this does not mean that they would do so under all conditions as they may have set up the car to set a particularly good time".
"Lots can be said about who is quickest but, at the end of the day, only the Grand Prix of Australia will reveal all", concluded Kimi.