Kimi Raikkonen may have registered his first podium finish in Formula 1 since the end of last season in the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, but despite Ferrari appearing to now be firmly on the comeback trail, the Finn insisted he 'can't be happy with third place'.
Prior to the Spanish Grand Prix a fortnight ago, Ferrari had endured its worst start to a campaign in the top flight in almost three decades, failing to score so much as a single point from the opening four races and looking to be a mere parody of its former self, the team that had stormed to constructors' world championship glory less than twelve months ago.
A step forward in Barcelona, however, was corroborated around the streets of the glamorous Principality, with Raikkonen grabbing a spot on the front row of the starting grid in qualifying alongside Brawn GP world championship leader Jenson Button, and team-mate Felipe Massa recovering from a Q1 coming-together with the unforgiving guardrail to line up fifth.
Though neither would enjoy flawless races – Raikkonen ceding position to the second Brawn entry of Rubens Barrichello when he made a tardy getaway when the lights went out, and Massa clumsily allowing the Williams of Nico Rosberg past as he backed off to let Sebastian Vettel re-overtake having fleetingly gained an advantage in cutting the seafront chicane – nonetheless the duo proved evenly-matched as they took the chequered flag separated by just 1.7 seconds, and just six seconds shy of Barrichello. It was, all told, an encouraging performance – but still Raikkonen was not satisfied.
“I can't be happy with third place,” lamented the 2007 world champion, “as my aim is always to win. All-the-same, this podium is very satisfying for the entire team after a very difficult start to the season, and I am happy that we are back competing at the front again. Over the past few weeks we have made a real step forward in terms of performance, and this result confirms it.
“We still have work to do to catch up with the best, but we are moving in the right direction. This weekend, if some details had worked out differently, the result could have been different – I'm thinking of missing out on pole by a whisker or of my second pit-stop when I lost a few seconds – but overall, we have to be pleased.”
“I am very happy with today's performance,” added 2008 world championship runner-up Massa, who set the fastest lap of the race as he doggedly chased the sister scarlet machine home. “The car was very competitive; it's clear we are on the way up, and hopefully we can soon be back to fighting for the win. Starting on the hard tyres was the best choice, but I lost a lot of time behind Vettel and then, because I made a mistake, I was also passed by Rosberg, but after that I quickly got back up the order and I think I could also have passed Kimi.
“In the three laps I had longer than him, at the second pit-stop, I found myself right behind Button and so I wasn't able to exploit the opportunity. We still lack a bit of aerodynamic downforce to be up with the Brawns, and it is too early to claim to be the second-best team in the championship. What is sure is that we are working well – and I am sure we will see further results of that soon.”
Indeed, whether or not Ferrari has now overtaken Red Bull Racing as F1's second force of 2009 behind the all-conquering Brawn GP outfit remains to be confirmed in the upcoming races, but it is inarguably the first of the sport's 'grandees' to return to the sharp end of competition, with traditional rivals McLaren-Mercedes – who it has leapfrogged into fourth spot in the constructors' title chase – and especially Renault and BMW-Sauber still struggling to make an impact. That alone is good news for the Maranello-based concern.