LONDON (Reuters) - Even if Ferrari’s drivers start the Formula One season on equal terms, it is Kimi Raikkonen who has the number one on his car and Brazilian Felipe Massa the number two.
Massa hopes to reverse the positions this year but he will have a job to prevent Raikkonen building on his championship success.
The Sao Paulo driver had a great opportunity to take the title last season, when Raikkonen was new to the Italian team and still finding his way as Michael Schumacher’s replacement, but Raikkonen will be harder to beat now.
Massa put up a good fight but his luck deserted him at the crucial point in 2007 and, ruled out of the reckoning, the 26-year-old ended the year helping his team mate to become Finland’s third world champion.
Though there are still plenty of people backing his chances to take the title in 2008, it will be harder now that the ‘Iceman’ has settled in.
“There is always an advantage when you win something, as happened to me when I won my first race,” Massa said at the end of January.
“But from a performance point of view we are equal. To become world champion you need everything, including luck, and he had more than I did.
“But this year I feel strong and motivated as ever because I know I have everything I need to fight on level terms.”
Massa, who longs to be Brazil’s first champion since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991 but needs to seize an early advantage over his team mate if the dream is not to slip away, may be feeling the pressure.
The same cannot be said of Raikkonen who will feel a weight lifted after taking the title against the odds, having coming so close in the past with McLaren.
The party-loving Finn is a driver who just wants to go racing and have fun. He shrugs off the paddock politics and has little interest in engaging with the media. Some find that hard to take.
“He is a brilliantly gifted driver, as good as anybody,” team boss Frank Williams said last week. “But Kimi’s weakness, which doesn’t seem apparent at Ferrari, is that he doesn’t seem that interested.”
Raikkonen likes to keep life simple. He loves being in the car, hates most other things about the sport and does not intend to change that approach just because he has won a championship.
As last season showed, when the Finn came back from 17 points down with two races remaining to win the title by a single point from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, he is remarkably untroubled by stress or mind games and now can enjoy his racing even more.
The 28-year-old has vowed not to let winning the title change his lifestyle — whether it be racing snowmobiles under the name of the late F1 champion and party animal James Hunt or entering a powerboat race dressed in a gorilla suit.
He will not lose any sleep over the pecking order within the team, either.
“We drivers start the season at the same level, everybody, and we do the best that we can. We try to win races,” he said after the launch of the new Ferrari in January.
“There’s a point in the season where (if) the other guy is in a better position, you need to make sure that he can get all the efforts from the team and all the chances so I don’t really worry about whether I am number one or number two.”
The Finn won the first race of 2007, on his Ferrari debut, but then went through a slump before coming back strongly with three wins in the last four races. He won six times in all.
“It’s a new season but it’s with the same team, so it’s going to be much easier for me and much easier for the team,” he said.
The signs from pre-season testing are that Ferrari will be the team to beat, with Italian Toyota driver Jarno Trulli going so far as to suggest that the championship was as good as over.
Raikkonen set a blistering pace in Ferrari’s Bahrain test in February, lapping more than two seconds faster than Massa’s 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix pole position time.
The Brazilian, who has got married since the end of last season, was equally impressive in Barcelona at the end of February.
“I am happy about my car,” Massa said at that final test of the season. “I think we are doing a good job. I don’t know if we are first, second or third but I think we are heading in the right direction.”
Editing by Clare Fallon