Defending Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen – who will almost certainly be forced to concede his trophy should he fail to triumph in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix – has suggested that he is carrying a heavy fuel load on-board his Ferrari after lining up second on the grid at Fuji Speedway.
The Finn has not won a race in the top flight since the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona all the way back in April, and what's more his front row starting slot represents his highest grid position since he took pole for the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours almost four months ago.
Whilst Raikkonen is widely expected to be called upon by Ferrari now to aid team-mate Felipe Massa's title bid, he is still not mathematically out of contention himself, which could pose the Scuderia
with an interesting dilemma. Should he prevail on Sunday with Massa and Hamilton failing to score, the 28-year-old would be just ten points behind the former and 17 markers adrift of the latter with two races to go – and from the same position this time twelve months ago, he went on to clinch the crown…
“I'm pleased to be back on the front row,” Raikkonen acknowledged, “even if I'm not totally happy as I always want to be the fastest. On top of that, I'm not completely satisfied with the handling of my car – all weekend we have worked very hard to find the best set-up, but we did not get it a hundred per cent right.
“All-the-same, we have improved our performance, especially with a heavy fuel load. This result means I'm in good shape for the race [and] tomorrow I will try to make the best of the situation. My aim is to finish this season in the best way possible, and help the team to win both championships.”
Maranello's team principal Stefano Domenicali and technical director Luca Baldisserri were both clearly pleased to see Raikkonen return to form after such a long period spent in the doldrums – and whether it is him or Massa who ultimately goes on to battle for the drivers' laurels, the 17-time grand prix-winner's belated resurgence has clearly not come a moment too soon.
“Kimi did a good job and managed to get back onto the front row,” underlined Domenicali. “Tomorrow, we can expect to have to fight our way up to the front, especially given the positions of our closest rivals.
“It will be a long race in which tyre performance, strategy and the overall teamwork will – as usual – play a decisive role in terms of the final outcome, as of course will the need for absolute reliability.”
“Kimi was comfortable on the heavy fuel load and managed to do a great lap to get onto the front row,” added Domenicali. “Tomorrow we will be up against very strong opposition, and we will do our utmost to get both our cars ahead of them.”