Kimi Raikkonen has received words of encouragement and support from Ferrari team boss Jean Todt, after victory on his maiden appearance for the Scuderia in Melbourne has since given way to a string of rather less impressive showings.

Indeed, with just two third places from the following three grands prix, the Finn has now slipped to eight points adrift of the world championship lead, and knows he must get his challenge back on-track this weekend in Monaco, the most glamorous and prestigious race of them all and one in which he triumphed for McLaren four years ago. Todt is adamant his young charge is more than up to the task.

"Kimi feels very much at ease with the team and vice-versa," the Daily Mail reports the Frenchman as having said. "He is a genuine and sincere person, and here he has found an open and co-operative atmosphere.

"I have always liked him both as a driver and in terms of the way he is out of the cockpit, always remaining the same in what is the difficult world of Formula 1."

While Raikkonen has seen his season come off the rails somewhat, team-mate Felipe Massa has blossomed, emerging victorious in both of the last two grands prix to steal the Ferrari limelight away and stake his credentials as a genuine title threat.

"Felipe was criticised from outside the team, but definitely not from within it," Todt stressed, alluding to the Brazilian's mistake under pressure in Malaysia that left critics wondering if he possessed the mental capacity required to mount a concerted championship assault. "We knew we could count on him as a winning driver and we are well aware of his abilities, both as a driver and as a man.

"Furthermore, you only have to look at the way he went last year - his first season with a top team - finishing third with two great wins under his belt in Istanbul and Sao Paulo. We are not surprised at what he is doing, even if others might be."

One thing of which Todt is well aware, however, is the importance of the old mantra 'to finish first, first you have to finish'. Despite Ferrari claiming three victories out of four so far in 2007, it is key rivals McLaren who lead both tables thanks to their greater consistency, and Monaco is a race that, incredibly, Maranello has not won since 2001.

"Reliability is crucial," he acknowledged, "as indeed it has always been. The outcome of this first leg of the championship is positive from a performance point-of-view, but not so much in terms of reliability.

"At the moment we are working on both reliability and performance, because in Formula 1 you cannot stop development on the car. As usual, we have left nothing to chance in our efforts to return to winning ways at Monaco."



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