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Raikkonen leads the way to Spain
Alan Baldwin | April 26, 2008 15:05 IST
The Finn is top of the standings after the first three long-haul races, a novel sensation for a driver who won his title by clawing back a 17-point deficit in the last two rounds of 2007.
Never before has he returned to Europe in such a position of strength.
"I have raced many times in Barcelona, it's always a very challenging circuit, but this time going there feels even more exciting than usual," he said on his personal Web site (www.kimiraikkonen.com).
"Obviously I prefer being the leader from the chaser I used to be (in) almost every season. Keeping all the others behind me in the race would mean keeping them behind me in the championship too."
The Spanish Grand Prix is considered by many to be the point where the real season starts, with teams back on familiar territory after far-flung races with quite distinct characteristics.
All test regularly at the Circuit de Catalunya, most were there only last week trying out their first significant developments of the season, and Sunday's race should offer a clearer picture of the true pecking order.
Britain's Lewis Hamilton [Images], his McLaren team mate Heikki Kovalainen and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica are all level on 14 while BMW Sauber lead the constructors' championship by a single point from Ferrari.
Raikkonen said champions Ferrari, chasing their third win in a row after Massa's success in Bahrain, were in good shape.
"My own part of last week's test was not that good but it doesn't matter," added the Finn, who won in Barcelona in 2005 with McLaren. "I think we should have speed enough for the weekend. All looks good.
"I expect Ferrari to be very competitive at Barcelona. But it's going to be close between the top teams."
Massa took the victory in Barcelona last year and nine of the last 10 Spanish Grands Prix have been won by Ferrari or McLaren, with local hero Fernando Alonso [Images] the exception when he triumphed for Renault in 2006.
The home crowd will be out in force again to cheer on their double world champion but, even with a heavily-revised aerodynamic package, Alonso may not be able to deliver what he has in the past.
"After the first three races, it was clear that we were not at the level of the leading teams," he said in a team preview.
"The team has made big efforts with improvements to the aerodynamics and with the level of mechanical grip.
"We had the chance to work through these on the track at Barcelona last week, and the first results proved encouraging. But it remains to be seen how much our competitors will have improved by as well."
Hamilton, last year's championship runner-up, won the Australian season-opener and will be looking to redeem himself after a woeful weekend in Bahrain delivered the lowest finish of his career (13th).
Runner-up in last year's race, Hamilton will also be in the spotlight with the governing FIA rolling out an anti-racism campaign after the sport's first black driver was abused in a Barcelona test in February.
(Editing by Trevor Huggins)
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