Reigning F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen has issued another warning to the two drivers ahead of his in this year's standings: I'm up for the fight!
The Finn trails championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 13 points with six races to run - and has Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa separating him from the Briton - but is keen to point out that he overcame a bigger margin in the final couple of races to take the title last season. Indeed, heading to Spa last season, the eventual world champion was 18
points off Hamilton's total.
A series of seemingly lacklustre performances have many writing off Raikkonen's chances of retaining his crown, claiming that the Finn and Ferrari should be throwing their weight behind Massa's challenge before Hamilton and McLaren open to much of a gap in the standings. Despite not winning either of the last two grands prix, Hamilton managed to gain a point over his pursuers each time, as the respective Ferrari drivers each suffered an engine failure, and now heads Massa by six with a similar number of races to run.
Raikkonen, however, continues to refuse himself out of the title race, despite acknowledging that recent outings have not been his best. The Finn points to qualifying as the weak point in his armoury, unable to set the F2008 to his liking and the paying the penalty for a poor grid slot in the subsequent races.
Heading to this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, however, the world champion is quick to remind his rivals that he has been unbeaten at Spa-Francorchamps for the past three races there, spanning his time at both McLaren and Ferrari.
"We're on the eve of one of the race weekends I really like - the Belgian GP is one of the highlights of the season and I usually obtain a good result at Spa," he emphasised, "Now I need it more than ever, after the results of the last races.
"The last race, for example, was one of those one should forget as fast as possible. It's a shame to be involved in many negative stories, but these things happen - it wasn't for the first time, and it might not have been the last in my career. You just have to know how to cope with these situations. When I was in school, it was never nice to get back home with a bad mark, and the only thing you could do was work harder for the next time. Today, the only thing I can do is to react to this negative situation."
The gap between Valencia's European Grand Prix and the trip to the Ardennes allowed time for all ten Formula One teams to prepare for the forthcoming races with a three-day test at Monza, scene of next weekend's Italian round. Ferrari fared well, boosting Raikkonen's morale, but he admits that he and the Scuderia still have a lot of work to do between now and the end of the season.
"The tests went really well," he said after his one day of running in Italy, "We tested some new solutions and the overall package seems to have improved. Having said that, we will only know how it looks on the track in qualifying at Spa, because you never know how much fuel everybody has on board during the tests. I think that it will be a fierce fight, and one test might not be enough to change the season's overall trend.