Raikkonen sets sights on first Bahrain win

Defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen wants to erase from his memory bad results at one of his bogey tracks on Sunday by winning this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Ferrari-driving Finn, who roared back to life in this year’s title race by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix ten days ago, has never won on the sand-blown circuit built in a desert.

But he believes that after three successive third-placed finishes, now is the time for him to stamp his authority on the event and this year’s championship.

”I have finished third in three successive grands prix in Bahrain. Time and again something has gone wrong. Sakhir is one of those circuits where I really want to win — finally,” he said.

”Obviously, we should have speed enough to fight for the top place in Bahrain, too. I have a good touch with that circuit and Ferrari has traditionally been strong there.”

Raikkonen’s Ferrari team, along with Toyota, spent six days testing in Bahrain during the winter, but the world champion does not believe it will give Ferrari any advantage.

”I have had some good races in Bahrain, but no win so far,” he added. ”The testing in February went very well this year and I’m looking forward to racing in Bahrain again and to challenge for the win.

”Obviously, our test in February does not harm us. But, of course, now it is different weather, different circuit and, obviously, our car is different, too.”

Raikkonen, who is just three points behind the early season leader in the drivers’ championship, Briton Lewis Hamilton, believes it is far too soon to begin thinking about judging the form of his rivals.

But, he warned that rapidly improving BMW are a force to be reckoned with and will play a major role this season.

”Never mind the championship. It’s much too early to make any kind of conclusions,” he said. ”We have to wait some races more to get the picture who are the main contenders for the title.

”It’s going to be as tight as it was last year. That is for sure. Now it’s the battle between three teams instead of two. Ferrari and McLaren have won the first two races, but let’s not forget that BMW have had two second places.

”So any slip up by Ferrari and McLaren and they will be there to pick up the points. This time you really have to fight for every point you get.”

And while Raikkonen relaxed and looked ahead, his teammate, Brazilian Felipe Massa, was given a vote of confidence by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo following his erratic start to 2008.

Massa retired from both the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix after mistakes and his future has been the subject of much speculation.

But Di Montezemolo quashed suggestions that he was seeking a replacement by claiming that Ferrari have the best driver line-up in the world.

”Felipe Massa is absolutely not under any scrutiny,” Di Montezemolo told Gazzetta dello Sport.

”In fact, we at Ferrari have the best driver pairing in the world. I expect a great race from Felipe in Bahrain after his wonderful qualifying session in Malaysia.”

Di Montezemolo said he had expected Ferrari to bounce back in Malaysia following their dismal weekend in Australia, where both cars retired.

”I expected that, and I’m convinced we have an exceptional team and a competitive car,” he added.

”This is not a competition between singles and married people: it will be a big challenge because the greatest car manufacturers in the world are in it.

”I’m very confident, also because I know there is a nice development programme for the car.”

Equally confident, championship leaders McLaren and their leading driver, Hamilton, will also expect a satisfactory result in Bahrain despite being shifted to the back end of the pit lane.

Their garage allocation is based on last year’s positions in the constructors’ standings when McLaren were stripped of their points due to the infamous ”spygate” affair.

Hamilton said he and teammate Heikki Kovalainen are unfussed by the shift after the team had been placed in the mid-field area for the two opening races.

He said: ”I love the Bahrain race, it is one of the ones I really look forward too, like Monaco and Spa and that is what I care about.

”I have a lot of good memories of the track, last year I had a fantastic race. It was great fun and I took my third podium in Formula One and took the joint lead of the championship.

”It felt a bit unreal at the time. But my best memory here is from 2004 — I recovered from a disastrous qualifying in F3, and I ended up in 23rd. I worked my way back up the grid to win the race. That was one of the most emotional races I had been involved in up to that point.”

With BMW’s rapidly improving Pole Robert Kubica and German Nick Heidfeld breathing down their necks the two leading teams will be wary of a close scrap this weekend as the 18-race championship begins to take shape. — Sapa-AFP

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