Ferrari teammates likely to be biggest Formula One opponents
Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen say they're getting on fine, but when the red lights go out to start the season in Melbourne, sparks could fly
The biggest rivalry of the Formula One season might be found on the same team, with former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen racing with and against each other for Ferrari.
Both have pledged to work together, although their competitive instincts may take over sooner rather than later.
Raikkonen's return to Ferrari surprised many observers.
He quit the team on bad terms at the end of the 2009 season, despite winning the F1 title two years earlier. He can match Alonso in terms of driving ability, but Alonso has been Ferrari's No 1 since Raikkonen left.
"There is a lot of talk outside about problems, but inside the team we have a very good feeling," Raikkonen said. "It doesn't matter who is your teammate. But for sure we have respect for each other and obviously we are both trying to come out on top in the end."
Alonso, the 2005 and '06 champion, has won 32 races, compared with 20 for the 34-year-old Raikkonen, and he insists he is committed to the greater cause of knocking Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel off his perch.
"We will follow wherever the team priorities lie and try to do our best to win both championships," said the 32-year-old Alonso, who has finished second to Vettel in three of the past four championships.
"We need to work in perfect harmony and follow what the team priority is."
It remains to be seen what would happen if they get team orders and one is asked to let the other pass. And with Vettel still only 26 as he bids for a fifth straight title, time is running out to clinch another one of their own.
One of the key questions is, if Raikkonen starts better in the first few races how will Alonso, and Ferrari, respond?
Alonso's relationship with Ferrari was tense last year, and he was forced publicly to declare his commitment to the team before the Belgian GP.
Ferrari's terrible inconsistency last season didn't help matters. Despite making a bright start, during which he won two of the first five GPs, Alonso failed to qualify higher than third for the whole campaign - and managed to do that only four times.
"Everyone is expecting a lot," Alonso said. "We need to deliver."
There was some good to come out of Vettel's total dominance, however. With the last few races relatively meaningless since Vettel was already out of sight, Ferrari could focus on developing this year's car and thus gained some valuable time over their rivals.
Rule changes this season have introduced new 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid engines with extensive energy recovery systems.
"We have to be optimistic," Raikkonen said. "We're in a changeable time now and we have many things coming in F1 with a big regulations change, but I think we are quite well prepared."
Melbourne on March 16 could be the first indicator of whether this unexpected partnership will revive the team's fortunes.