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01 Jul 2007 18:39
Kimi Raikkonen led Ferrari to a one-two finish and back into the battle for this year’s Formula One world championship on Sunday when he won the French Grand Prix in emphatic style.
The 27-year-old Finn came home ahead of his teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa (25) as the Italian team delivered their first one-two of the season and the first in 14 races since last year’s German Grand Prix.
The result prompted Raikkonen to predict a Ferrari revival after a period in the doldrums and he said they will now be a force in the championship.
But 22-year-old British rookie Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in the drivers’ championship from 10 points to 14 by coming home third for McLaren Mercedes-Benz.
And afterwards, Hamilton, like Raikkonen, predicted that he could win the next race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone next Sunday. “I am sure we can bounce back and win again,” he said.
“The gap today was not what it looked.”
To the delight of Italian fans, who feared that Ferrari were falling away this season and that Raikkonen, signed from McLaren last winter, could not deliver his best form for Ferrari, the Finn was back to his fastest as he claimed his second win of the season.
“That felt much better,” he said.
“We are going to have a lot more new parts next week and I am sure we can now maintain this form. We can win again, I am sure of that, and we usually go very well at Silverstone.”
Pole sitter Massa blamed the failure of other drivers to move aside during his second stint between the pit stops for his disappointment in not winning despite leading from the start for more than half of the 70-lap race.
“I was 4,8 seconds ahead after the first stint and would have won if it was not for the traffic problems I had with other cars. It ruined my chances of winning, but it is great for the team, this result, and now we can go on and try to beat McLaren again.”
Hamilton said: “If you had said to me at any time that I would be heading towards my home race as the world championship leader, I would not have believed you. To be in this position in the team I always dreamed of racing for is just so special for me.
“I did not expect to finish on the podium in my first race, let alone being on the podium for all of the first eight! And, yes, it is a new experience for me to be overtaken—for the first time this season—in Formula One, but I know that it happens. Kimi just had a much better start than me. His was exceptional and I don’t really know what happened to mine.”
Finn Raikkonen came home two seconds ahead of Massa as the Italian team ended rivals McLaren’s three-race sequence of victories. The result confirmed that McLaren may not have it all their own way in this year’s championship.
It was Raikkonen’s first win since the season-opening Australian race in Melbourne on March 18, his second of the season and the 11th of his career and a memorable way of saying adieu to the remote Magny-Cours circuit, hosting the French race for the final time.
It meant also that after eight races this year four drivers have shared the victories with two apiece and, for Raikkonen, it was a powerful response to doubters who have suggested he lacked the discipline and resolve to become a successful Ferrari driver after his move from McLaren.
Massa, who led for more than half of the race, finished second ahead of Hamilton.
His McLaren teammate and chief rival defending double drivers’ champion Fernando Alonso of Spain, who started from 10th position on the grid, was unable to fight his way through the field and finished seventh.
Hamilton had won the two previous races in Canada and the United States and he was seeking a hat-trick, but despite his disappointment he stayed ahead in the title race with 64 points to Alonso’s 50. The other double winners this year are Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa.
Poland’s Robert Kubica finished fourth for BMW Sauber, after driving a solid race on his return to action following his high-speed crash in Canada three weeks ago.
His BMW teammate German Nick Heidfeld was fifth ahead of Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in a Renault, Alonso, who was seventh, and Briton Jenson Button, who claimed his and his Honda team’s first point of the year in eighth place.—Sapa-AFP
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