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Ferrari still expecting McLaren to be its top Formula One challenger in 2008

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Fernando Alonso's return to Renault won't change Formula One's pecking order, according to Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

``Ferrari and McLaren will surely be very fast again,'' Raikkonen said Thursday at Ferrari's annual winter retreat in the Italian Dolomites. ``Some other team might be fast, but for sure the duel between McLaren and Ferrari will continue.

``Maybe Renault and BMW could compete, but we will understand how it is going to be after the first races.''

After a tumultuous season with McLaren, Alonso re-signed with Renault, the team he won consecutive titles with in 2005 and '06.

Alonso clashed with McLaren boss Ron Dennis last season after believing that English driver Lewis Hamilton received preferential treatment.

Raikkonen won the F1 championship with 110 points, one more than Hamilton and Alonso. Massa was fourth with 94 points in one of the sport's most thrilling seasons.

``Alonso is certainly a great driver and McLaren has certainly lost (a great driver),'' Massa said. ``On the other hand, Hamilton has shown how good he is and (Heikki) Kovalainen could do very well.''

Kovalainen will replace Alonso as McLaren's second driver this season.

Raikkonen passed Massa during the final round of pit stops at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix to clinch the title. Both drivers intimated that Massa deliberately slowed down to allow Raikkonen to pass him.

What did they say to each other afterward?

``I said thanks,'' Raikkonen said. ``With Massa, we have a very good relationship. We work together as a team.''

Massa didn't expect much more from his reserved teammate, who is nicknamed the ``Iceman.''

``That's how he is,'' Massa said. ``He doesn't talk much.''

For this season, Ferrari has made a point of saying that both its drivers will begin on equal footing, even though Raikkonen will have the No. 1 on his car as defending champion.

``I do not really worry if I'm No. 1 or 2,'' Raikkonen said. ``We start the same. It all depends on the situations during the season.''

There are two new venues this season _ Valencia, Spain, and Singapore _ and both are street circuits.

``Actually, I like street circuits a lot,'' Raikkonen said. ``And I do not think that racing at night in Singapore will make a big difference.''

The Singapore race on Sept. 28 will be the sport's first at night.

Also new this season, traction control is banned.

``It will be a bit more tricky but I feel safe,'' Raikkonen said. ``If you have fear you do not do it, you better find another job.''

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Ferrari still expecting McLaren to be its top Formula One challenger in 2008
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