Raikkonen Predicts Close Battle

Provisional pole position man Kimi Raikkonen is predicting a straight head-to-head battle with Fernando Alonso for the top spot on the final grid after a close fight in first qualifying at Imola on Saturday

Raikkonen Predicts Close Battle

The McLaren driver, whose team appear to have resolved the single-lap qualifying issues with their MP4-20, edged out the World Championship leader by just three thousands of a second.

With World Champion Michael Schumacher almost three-tenths of a second adrift, Raikkonen believes that his only real threat for the top spot is his Renault rival.

"The start of the lap for me was slightly better than Fernando," said Raikkonen straight after the first qualifying session. "He almost got me in the last sector but it was enough. It looks like it will be me and him tomorrow, but we will see what we can do."

McLaren are understood to have made modifications to the suspension characteristics of their car since the Bahrain Grand Prix in a bid to help the car generate more heat in its tyres for the single lap qualifying sessions.

Raikkonen certainly had no complaints about how better suited the car seemed to qualifying than it had in the first three races of the year.

"The car overall is much better than it was in Bahrain and this circuit tends to suit the car much better," he explained. "It was good already yesterday straight out of the box and I am pretty happy about it."

A delighted McLaren boss Ron Dennis hailed the work his team had done to improve their car - and with a host of further improvements planned for the Spanish Grand Prix he was bullish about the team's world championship prospects.

"This is very encouraging for us," said Dennis. "We have got a lot of work coming on the car for Spain, so if we can perform well here it bodes well for the rest of the season."

When asked about the prospects of keeping hold of the pole position slot in final qualifying, Dennis said: "It is going to be tough. We know the weaknesses and strengths of the car, but it has got a reasonable time advantage over the second row. We will be a bit racy, but that is the way you have to be."

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