|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Hamilton and Raikkonen ready for battle
Alan Baldwin | March 07, 2008 13:57 IST
The 23-year-old McLaren driver has swallowed the disappointment of losing out by a single point last year after Ferrari's [Images] Finn roared back from 17 points down with two races remaining.
The Briton, who won four races in an astonishing debut season that started with nine straight podium finishes and could so easily have ended with him becoming the first rookie champion, is eager for the rematch.
"I am more determined to beat him this year," the sport's first black driver told reporters in January.
"I just feel more determined this year. I know what I want," added Hamilton, who has secured a lucrative new deal with McLaren and relocated to Switzerland [Images] since becoming a household name in Britain.
"I knew what I wanted last year but it was sort of having that desire but not really knowing how to fill the shoes 100 percent."
"I honestly believe I can do a better job the second time."
The Australian Grand Prix on March 16 will be the opening skirmish on a battleground stretching around the world and including new street circuits in Singapore and Valencia, with the Asian state hosting the first night race in September.
As champion, Raikkonen must be considered the favourite and few would bet against the 28-year-old putting down a marker by winning in Melbourne for the second year running.
Heir to Michael Schumacher [Images] at Ferrari, the Finn has settled in now and is utterly unflappable under pressure -- something that cannot yet be said of Hamilton, who must also handle soaring expectations at home.
"Kimi is the driver to beat this year," said double champion Fernando Alonso [Images], Hamilton's team mate at McLaren last year before leaving to return to Renault.
"Lewis, (Finland's Heikki) Kovalainen, (Brazilian Felipe) Massa, the two Ferraris and two McLarens, all of them are capable of winning the championship," the Spaniard told the BBC.
Massa, Raikkonen's team mate, put up a strong challenge last year while Kovalainen could prove a handful in the second McLaren.
"If I have to say one name, then Kimi," added Alonso, whose relationship with Hamilton disintegrated over the course of last season to the point where they were no longer on speaking terms.
Pre-season testing times suggest that Ferrari and McLaren, who won all the races between them last year, are still in a class of their own.
The Italian team, who won both championships after McLaren were fined a record $100 million and stripped of all their constructors' points for a spying controversy involving Ferrari information, appear to be slightly ahead.
Ferrari have two highly experienced drivers while McLaren, whose pairing have started just 34 Grands Prix between them, may miss Alonso's recognised expertise in setting up the car.
Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone is in the ideal position of having last year's top three drivers -- Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso -- with different teams.
But Renault are struggling to regain the form that took Alonso to both his titles and the Spaniard has said that even podium finishes look out of reach, at least in the early stages of the year.
If Ferrari and McLaren again dominate the podium, the battle for third and fourth places promises to be every bit as intense.
BMW [Images] Sauber, who have a first race win as their main target after finishing second overall last year following McLaren's demotion, face a strong challenge from Williams, Red Bull, Toyota and Renault.
Even Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso, with France's [Images] four-times Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais on board alongside young German Sebastian Vettel, could be nipping at their heels.
Bourdais, the first French driver to start a season since Olivier Panis in 2004, will be challenging Renault's Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Williams' Japanese Kazuki Nakajima for the accolade of rookie of the year.
Piquet joins Germany's [Images] Nico Rosberg, whose father Keke won the title in 1982, as the second son of a champion on the starting grid.
Ferrari-powered Force India, formerly struggling Spyker, could be the most improved team of the year under the new ownership of Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya [Images] while under-performing Honda will be hoping to end their nightmare.
Drivers face some big changes on the track with the introduction of a four-race gearbox and standard electronic control unit and the removal of 'driver aids' such as traction control. Wet races could become a lot livelier.
"No question about it, there will be more crashes," said Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber. "There will be some venues where it's going to be very tricky for us."
Indianapolis will not be one of them. The US Grand Prix, won by Hamilton last year, has been axed after local organisers failed to reach an agreement with Ecclestone.
Formula One: The Complete Coverage