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Massa shadow looms over Kimi
March 08, 2007 18:22 IST
Kimi Raikkonen arrived at Ferrari as the main man, a super-quick driver to fill the void left by Michael Schumacher and lead the Formula One glamour team back to the top.
His Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa views the situation differently and, increasingly, so do some others.
Raikkonen is blisteringly quick, easily on a par with double champion Fernando Alonso and ahead of the rest. He has star quality.
But Massa now looks much more like the real deal, no longer simply plugging a hole at Ferrari until someone better comes along.
Handed a one-year contract alongside Schumacher, the most successful driver Formula One has ever known, the 25-year-old came on in leaps and bounds last season.
He took his first Grand Prix podium at the Nuerburgring and won two races, including the Brazilian season-ender where he handled the considerable pressure of competing in front of his home Sao Paulo crowd on a weekend dominated by the German's farewell.
Once Schumacher had decided to retire, Ferrari rewarded Massa with a contract extension to the end of 2008.
The Brazilian, who raced for Ferrari-powered Sauber in 2002, 2004 and 2005 with a spell as Ferrari test driver in 2003, has been under contract to the Italian team since 2001.
He has learned from the maestro and worked on the rough edges. At the final pre-season test in Bahrain last week, Massa was top of the timesheets after all three days.
"Everybody thought that Kimi was coming to Ferrari and staying ahead and being number one and now everybody's realised that Felipe is very quick as well," said double champion Fernando Alonso last week.
"For me it's not a surprise. Either of them can win."
Renault team boss Flavio Briatore said much the same as his former driver in January.
"I never believed Massa was so good," he declared. "If you asked me about Massa at the beginning of the season, I thought he was kind of medium. But give him the right car and he's terrific."
Former champion Jacques Villeneuve is even more complimentary about a former team mate he once criticised heavily.
"Massa will probably take over as team leader," he told F1 Racing magazine. "He did a really strong job last year, made a few mistakes but didn't look too shabby next to Michael.
"He's intelligent, talented, quick. With the right equipment, he can be a title contender. Then we'll see if he's really a great, or just a good, driver. But he could be great."
Massa, assured by the team that there is no longer a number one, even if Raikkonen is clearly the big money investment, can be counted on to give it his best shot.
He knows the team well, is popular within it and speaks fluent Italian. Massa is also managed by Nicolas Todt, son of team boss Jean.
Most importantly, after his breakthrough season, he has the confidence that comes with being a winner.
"I expect to make another step forward compared to last year," Massa told reporters last week. "I'm trying to put everything together to be successful."
"I'm not the kind of guy who likes to say 'Yeah, I'm going to win'. I'm not like that. I'm going to keep working hard like I was always doing.
"In the end, winning the championship doesn't just mean being quick and being strong. You need to put everything together, especially luck, consistency and speed," he added.
"I'm going to try everything together and if I win I will be the happiest guy in the world."
Melbourne will give the first hint of whether the Brazilian can realistically hope to become his country's first champion since the late Ayrton Senna but, as Villeneuve made clear, that is no longer a laughable suggestion.
On recent form, Raikkonen will not find him an easy team mate.
"Both are completely different," Peter Sauber, a former team boss to both drivers, told Britain's Autosport magazine last year. "The sure thing is that Kimi and Felipe are both very fast and the talent is high.
"I believe Felipe will take this chance to drive on an equal level."
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