Despite Kimi Raikkonen's excellent podium finish in the European Grand Prix in Valencia today, Ferrari has conceded that third spot in the constructors' title standings is slipping beyond its grasp in the light of McLaren-Mercedes' late-season renaissance – as Luca Badoer achieved his goal on his F1 return.
Having qualified sixth around the Valencia Street Circuit – where last year regular team-mate Felipe Massa cantered to victory in the race's inaugural edition – Raikkonen made an excellent KERS-aided getaway when the starting lights went out to immediately gain two positions at the expense of Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button and move up to fourth.
From there, the 2007 F1 World Champions produced a strong drive, shadowing eventual winner Rubens Barrichello throughout the opening stint and then going on to chase down Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren, leapfrogging his countryman during the second round of pit visits and then going on to maintain his third place all the way to the chequered flag for his third rostrum finish of the 2009 campaign and second in succession.
“I am happy about this result,” remarked the 29-year-old. “Already on Friday we saw that the car was pretty competitive over a distance, and we therefore thought we could fight for a podium finish. We were also aware that, in qualifying, we might have struggled, especially on light fuel. Both these predictions proved correct, and today we were once again able to get on the podium.
“I managed to make up a few places at the start and my first aim was to pull out a bit of a gap over [Nico] Rosberg, who was going to stop after me. In the second part of the race, I realised that I could close on Kovalainen and try and make the most of the run of pit-stops to get ahead of him and I managed it.
“Now we go to Spa, a track that I like a lot, [though] we must wait for Friday to see how competitive we can be. At this point in the season, if we manage to get everything right then we can aim for the podium, and if anything was to happen to those ahead of us, we can try and do even better. We must do all we can to hang on to third place in the constructors' championship.”
Badoer, for his part, made steady improvements during the course of the grand prix around a track that prior to this weekend the former International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion had never so much as set eyes upon before. A superb start saw the 38-year-old gain no fewer than six positions off the line, but unfortunately a tap from Renault debutant Romain Grosjean only a handful of turns later sent him into a spin and down to the back of the pack again.
From there, the first Italian to race for Ferrari in F1 in 15 years showed sensible progress in his lap times, reducing his deficit to the leaders to just 1.9 seconds and the gap to Raikkonen to just under 1.4 seconds. There was a further spin along the way and an unfortunate pit-lane indiscretion that saw Badoer handed a drive-through penalty, but he nonetheless made it to the chequered flag to fulfil his stated objective after ten years away from the action, and insists he is confident of being able to do considerably better in the Belgian Grand Prix in a week's time.
“I said when I arrived in Valencia that this grand prix would be a time for me to dust the rust off my back and get confident in the role of race driver again,” stated the man from Montebelluna near Venice. “It was important for me to complete so many kilometres without making any serious mistakes, and I managed that. From the physical point-of-view, I feel fine and that is another cause for satisfaction.