Defending Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has argued those criticising Lewis Hamilton for his stuttering start to the 2008 campaign should pin the blame on the performance of the young Brit's McLaren-Mercedes, rather than on his driving.

Whilst Hamilton enjoyed a perfect start to his title challenge when he triumphed in Melbourne, since then he has notched up just four points courtesy of fifth place in Malaysia, with an error-strewn weekend in Bahrain seven days ago seeing him crash in practice, botch the race start, run into the back of ex team-mate Fernando Alonso on lap two and ultimately take the chequered flag down in 13th place - consequently surrendering the championship lead to Raikkonen.

"Lewis did not make many mistakes last year," the Finn underlined in an interview with the Daily Mirror, in response to harsh words from such as three-time former world champion Niki Lauda [see separate story - click here] and Force India chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne [see separate story - click here]. "This year they are not in as strong a position with the car.

"Maybe it makes it more difficult when you do not have such a good package and you try to push more and more, especially during a race when your weekend has not been as good."

Looking at his own start to the season - almost a mirror image reversal of that of Hamilton, with a disastrous debut Down Under followed by victory in Malaysia and the runner-up spot in Bahrain, seeing him move three points clear at the head of the drivers' standings - the 28-year-old said he was satisfied with his and Ferrari's performance so far, but he warned there was a long way still to go.

"After three races, I am leading the championship and after three races last year I wasn't," Raikkonen mused, "so I am very happy.

"Last year was tough for me. I was in a new team and you had to expect a learning curve. The first year was difficult as it takes time to get used to people.

"It is now much easier as they know what I want and I know what they want. Everything is very smooth and everything is improving.

"So far it has been very good. I go into every race expecting to win, but any one of six drivers from the three teams [Ferrari, McLaren and BMW] can do well. We are pretty fast at the moment, but let's see what happens."



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