Damon Hill has revealed that he believes Kimi Raikkonen is now the favourite to defend his Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship laurels and lift the trophy again this year – despite the Finn having gone a full seven races without standing atop the podium in the top flight.
The Ferrari star sits second in the title standings following his third place in the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend, five points adrift of leader Lewis Hamilton. Until the last third of the race, however, when he set fastest lap after fastest lap, the 17-time grand prix winner failed to look particularly interested in proceedings – and not for the first time this season, some paddock observers have noted.
However, Britain's last F1 World Champion and current British Racing Drivers' Club President Hill argues that Ferrari's unexpected race day superiority over McLaren around the Hungaroring – with Felipe Massa comfortably proving to have the legs of pole-sitter Hamilton until the Brazilian's sudden retirement with a blown engine just three laps from home – has handed the advantage back to Maranello as the crucial final phase of the season approaches.
What's more, the 47-year-old suggested Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen could now come into play too, following his breakthrough grand prix success at his 28th start in Budapest.
“Last season was remarkable,” Hill commented, quoted by the Daily Star
, “and it is the same this season. It is so much more competitive than when I was driving in my championship year with Williams.
“You really do have a much more difficult task to win three grands prix on the trot (as Hamilton stood to do should he have triumphed in Hungary) than you did back then. It is just so tight, with good drivers in both teams – Ferrari and McLaren.
“Right now they are all in with a shout, which is very good for the sport because you don't want it to become predictable and you don't want number one drivers in a team.
“At this stage you just cannot call where the title is going to go, though – it could be any one of four. I wouldn't even discount Heikki, even though he knows he has pace to find on Lewis.
“He will be boosted by winning a grand prix, so the ingredients are there, with all four looking more like seasoned drivers which is helping.