Murray Walker has tipped Kimi Raikkonen to bounce back next year from his desultory campaign as defending world champion in Formula 1 - though he is less convinced that will be enough for the Finn to reclaim his crown.

Raikkonen suffered a poor 2008 season by his own standards, dogged by off-colour performances, accusations that he had lost his drive to win and suggestions that he may not even still be around on the grand prix grid in 2009.

A record-equalling ten fastest laps, however, allied to two victories and pole positions early on and a seeming late resurgence in form that saw the 29-year-old finally get back on terms with title-challenging Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in the closing stages, at least hinted that all is not yet lost.

Nonetheless, Raikkonen, voted only sixth in readers' list of top ten drivers of the season [see separate story - click here], knows he will have to get on the gas immediately when the starting lights go out in 2009 if he is not to be perennially consigned to the F1 history books as an enigmatic one-hit wonder.

"His problem in 2008 was basically one with the tyres and the balance of the car and his driving style, which didn't suit the 2008 Ferrari as well as Massa's did," explained veteran commentator Walker, in an exclusive interview with Radio.

"Since we don't know what the 2009 Ferrari is going to be like we don't know how well Raikkonen will go in it, but I think the fact that Ferrari have re-signed him for next year is a very clear indication that they're happy about his psychological state and mental wellbeing and everything else that is necessary to be a good driver.

"Raikkonen will have the winter to think over the fact that he's lost the world championship and why he's lost the world championship, and the fact that he's going on in 2009 and that he needs to do something about it.

"I'm quite sure that during the testing which precedes the new season, he will get stuck in with his Ferrari people, regain his old drive and be right up at the front next year. Whether that results in him being world champion again or not is something altogether different."

As to whom Walker - who commentated on the sport for the BBC and latterly ITV from the 1970s all the way through to the 2001 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - believes will prevail next year, he is unwilling to make any predictions given the sweeping raft of new technical and aerodynamic regulations coming into force.

He was also non-committal about whether the differences would likely lead to more overtaking and a better on-track spectacle - one of the key items on the FIA's agenda for change for the near future.

"We're going to have to wait and see," the 85-year-old stressed. "The thing that is going to affect it most of all is not the change of tyres from grooved to slicks and not even the aerodynamics in my opinion - it's going to be the extent to which KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) is employed and developed successfully by the various teams.

"If one team gets it right it could be an enormous advantage, and for the ones who get it wrong it'll be an enormous disadvantage. It's all so new that we're not going to know until next year the effect that it's actually had.

"I'm still expecting to see Ferrari, Renault, McLaren and BMW at the front and the rest somewhere behind, though, simply by virtue of the fact that they've got the money and they've got the expertise and they've got the facilities to develop new cars to new regulations quicker and better than their rivals."

by Russell Atkins