McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh is refusing to write any of the leading contenders out of F1 title fight with nine races still to go, and includes the returning Kimi Raikkonen among those who should be watched.

The Finn, a former McLaren driver who went on to clinch the world championship with Ferrari ahead of the Woking team's Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in 2007, has returned to the top flight this season after a two-year sabbatical in the WRC. Initially linked to Williams, Raikkonen eventually ended up signing with the rebranded Lotus (formerly Renault) team, where he partners GP2 champion Romain Grosjean.

The pair have proved to be a potent, if slightly unfortunate, combination, racking up podium finishes without yet making it on to the top step. Raikkonen has finished each of the eleven rounds to date, with just one non-scoring result when he came home a tyre-afflicted 14th in China. Among them, five podium finishes - from Spain, Monaco,, Valencia, Germany and Hungary - have had the consequence of putting the Finn fifth overall in the individual standings, one point behind Hamilton and 48 off leader Alonso, and former team boss Whitmarsh insists that the Raikkonen-Lotus combination should not be written off.

"He is very talented, one of the fastest men on the planet," the Briton told Brazil's TotalRace, "People tend to underestimate Kimi, because of how little he talks, but he is a very intelligent and impressive driver.

"Kimi does not make many mistakes, [and] always does a good job, so I'm not surprised [at his championship position. I think he has the ability to improve even more throughout the season, and the Lotus is a good car, so they're a real threat."