Kimi Raikkonen has hinted that he will return to form with a vengeance in Formula 1 in 2009, after the reigning world champion revealed he had 'learnt a lesson' in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend that will be 'useful' in the future.

The 17-time grand prix winner has struggled in qualifying for the majority of the current campaign, making him look like little more than a shadow of the man who pinched the laurels at the last in 2007, as he has invariably trailed team-mate Felipe Massa on Saturday afternoons and consequently given himself too much ground to make up come race day.

After lining up on the front row on the grid around the Shanghai International Circuit - the second outing in succession in which he has out-qualified Massa - Raikkonen admitted that whilst his turnaround has come too late to save his hopes of defending his hard-fought crown, it has come just in time for him to launch his preparations to regain the trophy next season.

"Finally, things seemed to go right for me in qualifying," stated the Finn, who yesterday turned 29 and is tomorrow bidding to record his first grand prix victory since Barcelona all the way back in April. "It's too late for the title, but we definitely learnt a lesson which will be useful for next year.

"All weekend we've struggled to find the right settings on the car, but then all the work we put in finally came good in Q3, when the car was pretty good. Certainly, even putting aside what the choices have been in terms of fuel loads, today it would have been difficult to beat the McLaren, but I am happy with the overall result for the team.

"We can count as usual on being more competitive in the race than in qualifying, so we can look to tomorrow with confidence, as we try to get the best possible result for both championships. The weather could be very changeable, so we have to be ready to deal with every eventuality."

"A very tough qualifying," concurred the Scuderia's technical director Luca Baldisserri, "up against a very strong rival. I would say the main problem we have at this track is the inconsistency of our car performance.

"We worked hard to get around it, but so far we have not managed to resolve the problem completely. We must try and do that for tomorrow's race, but we can take heart from the fact that, usually, over a long run we have always gone better than in qualifying."

Raikkonen was certainly far more encouraged at the end of the session than was his fellow Finn, McLaren-Mercedes' Heikki Kovalainen, with whom he traded fastest times in both Q2 and Q3.

Though the Hungarian Grand Prix winner at one stage looked like giving even world championship-leading team-mate Lewis Hamilton a run for his money, fifth spot on the grid in the final reckoning following a poor last effort was not what either he - or McLaren - had been hoping for.

"Q1 and Q2 went very well for me," stated Kovalainen, who will turn 27 on race day, "and I started Q3 feeling optimistic. Unfortunately, on my last run my tyres didn't seem to deliver the grip levels I'd expected.

"It's a pity, because I was hopeful I could get a better grid position than P5, but I'm still very encouraged by the progress we've made since yesterday, particularly with the balance, and I'm confident I'll be even more competitive in the race tomorrow."

Though Kovalainen responded with a terse 'not much' when asked on ITV what he could do to aid Hamilton's title charge from the third row of the grid, McLaren team principal Ron Dennis argued his young charge had 'continued the strong form he showed at Fuji last weekend', and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug insisted that the man from Suomussalmi 'should be in a position to run quick and consistent lap times' in the race.

"Heikki was very convincing being fastest on his first attempt," the German pointed out, "but he finally missed the front row by three tenths of a second and third place by less than half a tenth."

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