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Ecclestone again backs Massa for title
(GMM)  Just like one year ago, Bernie Ecclestone is placing his pre-season bet for the drivers' title on Felipe Massa.

Prior to the 2008 season, in which 27-year-old Massa won more races than any other driver and finished one point behind champion Lewis Hamilton, the F1 chief executive tipped the Brazilian for the title.

In an interview on Thursday with the Daily Express, the billionaire said: "Red Bull could be a big surprise with Sebastian Vettel.  Put him in a Ferrari and he'd be as quick as anyone they have got.

"Brawn are going well too, but my money is going on Felipe Massa again.  I don't see why he shouldn't get the job done.  He was quick last year but Ferrari cost him the title with their mistakes," Ecclestone added.

He also thinks diminutive Massa's teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was off-color last year after winning the 2007 title, could reclaim his form in 2009.

"If Kimi Raikkonen wins a couple of the first three races, you will see a different Kimi.

"Lewis Hamilton, who has been a good world champion, is obviously going to be there if the McLaren improves but, if they miss out on the first few races, he has a mountain to climb," said Ecclestone.

Michael Schumacher on Thursday was also assessing the likely 2009 pecking order, having observed the two last tests of the winter at Barcelona and Jerez.

The seven time world champion believes his old team Ferrari will be in the fight, but he said "several teams" also seem likely to challenge, including the new outfit run by his former Ferrari colleague Ross Brawn.

"Besides us there are Renault and Toyota, and BMW and Williams as well -- on the other hand, after Barcelona you clearly have to say that Ross' team was outstanding.

"They were a second (per lap) in front, and if they can take this into the season they are strong as well -- even if probably the big teams will cut that advantage away with time.

"McLaren at the moment looks pretty bad," said Schumacher.

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