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Raikkonen takes F1 battle to Schumacher heartland
Alan Baldwin |
July 30, 2003 18:38 IST
Kimi Raikkonen can pile pressure on Ferrari's Formula One leader Michael Schumacher this weekend by beating the German in front of his home crowd.
But to do so, the young Finn must finish at Hockenheim for the first time.
Raikkonen, 23, is seven points adrift of the five-times world champion with five races remaining in an unpredictable and enthralling season that has seen seven different drivers celebrate race wins so far.
Schumacher, the championship won by this stage last year, romped away with the 2002 German Grand Prix. Raikkonen retired, just as he had the previous season.
But whereas Schumacher has won repeatedly at the Nuerburgring, Germany's other race, Hockenheim has not been a happy hunting ground for him.
Last year's win was his first for Ferrari at the circuit and only the second there in his career. In 2000 and 2001 he too failed to finish.
Naturally, he would rather remember the immediate past.
"Last year this race was one of the highlights of the season," he said. "I ... came to Germany with the feeling that I could really celebrate the title with my fans.
"Victory came after years of trying with Ferrari and when I stood on the podium, I felt like the happiest man in the world.
"With that in mind, obviously I can't wait to return to Germany, ready to fight on track.
"This year, the race definitely looks a much tougher prospect than last season's and everyone at Ferrari is aware of that, but it is not an impossible task.
"Recently, we have made significant progress, so we feel well prepared. We can expect a very tough race."
The circuit is not one where teams regularly test and, although Ferrari have won three of the last four grands prix there, McLaren and Williams have strong track records.
"It can be considered as a track which is not particularly suited to the Ferrari, but of course we will be out to prove the opposite," said Schumacher.
Raikkonen clawed back a championship point at the last race at Silverstone -- a race disrupted by a protestor running on the track -- when he finished third and the German was fourth.
Hockenheim is a home race for McLaren's partners Mercedes and, while Schumacher will be the main man for most fans, a sizeable contingent from the factory will travel up from Stuttgart.
Williams will also be prominent with Ralf Schumacher, winner at the Nuerburgring, looking for a German double after failing to score points at Silverstone.
"Last year, we ran for the first time on the revised track, which is great, so I can't wait to get back there," he said.
Colombian team mate Juan Pablo Montoya was second at Hockenheim last year and, with five podiums in a row lifting him to third place overall, will be looking to press his championship hopes.
Further back, Briton Justin Wilson will make his Jaguar debut after leaving Minardi to replace disappointing Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, while Denmark's Nicolas Kiesa starts his first grand prix for Minardi.