Raikonnen ignores Alonso to keep an eye on victory

Championship challenger Kimi Raikkonen said in Monza on Friday that he will ignore the performances of title race leader Fernando Alonso and concentrate on winning the remaining five races of the season.

Raikkonen knows nothing less than victory will do if he wants to close down the 24-point gap to Spaniard Alonso quickly, and he is determined to continue his chase with a third consecutive win this weekend.

But he admitted: “It would be good for us [to win the next five races], but it’s going to be hard. We’ll just do the best that we can together and hopefully together we can win lots of races and see what happens.

“We will be very close. It all depends on what happens to them [Renault] that makes the difference and says how well we can do in the races.

“But I’m not worried about those things and I’ll just focus race by race.”

Raikkonen is mentally strong and he claims that nothing has changed in the pressure levels of the championship fight because he has become used to Alonso enjoying a significant points advantage.

He believes that gives him an even greater chance to attack, adding: “It has been a long time already that we’ve had nothing to lose and we can only gain now for the rest of the year.

“It was a productive first practice day here and we achieved fast and consistent times, but we can still optimise our set-up as it is always very crucial here to find the ideal balance on this low downforce circuit.
We should be competitive throughout the rest of the weekend.”

The only blip in McLaren’s near-perfect preparations was a transmission problem for test driver Pedro de la Rosa in the second session, but the Spaniard still finished the day with the fastest time overall.

The strong start will be good news for Raikkonen, who had to fend off some heavy speculation about his relationship with the team during the build-up to this weekend’s race.

Rumours were rife that he had signed a contract with Ferrari for 2007, the year after his current deal with McLaren comes to an end, and that world champion Michael Schumacher would move the other way.

But he was quick to brush off the suggestions in Monza on Friday and said: “There’s always things being said this time of the year, but I have a strong contract with McLaren, so I’ll be here as long as I have that.”

He did admit, however, that he is currently unsure about plans beyond his current contract and added: “I haven’t decided on where I want to be, but at the moment I’m happy here and I’m just thinking about the race.”

Schumacher in the barriers

Schumacher hoped for a Ferrari revival at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix but instead ended the first day of practice in the barriers.

The German seven-times champion appeared to hit a bump at the high-speed final Parabolica corner half an hour into the session in front of his team’s passionate Tifosi fans.

His car slewed backwards across the circuit, bounced across a gravel trap and collided heavily with a tyre wall, leaving him unhurt but embarrassed.

He climbed from the cockpit of his damaged car and chose to watch the remainder of the session from behind the safety barriers rather than rush back to the pits to discuss the incident.

His accident confirmed the problems Ferrari face as they battle to avoid embarrassment in front of their fans this weekend after a year of struggles. Insiders at the team were still unable to explain the incident later in the day.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn said: “Losing Michael’s car in the middle of the second session was not an ideal start to our weekend. We had wanted to check a couple of new things on the car.”

Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello also suffered, finishing down in 16th place, and Brawn added: “Rubens’s car seemed to be less balanced today than in the test last week, so we need to understand why.

“He only did one day of the test last week, so we shall go through everything carefully this evening to see if we can give him a better set-up. We still have improvements to make in car set-up.”—Sapa-AFP

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