Italy hails Raikkonen and Ferrari after tough year

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MILAN, Oct 22 (Reuters) Ferrari-mad Italy is basking in the glory of Kimi Raikkonen's surprise world title triumph following a season of scandal that promised little only a few months ago.

''All so incredible but true,'' ran a headline in today's Gazzetta dello Sport after the Finn won the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix to snatch the title by one point. ''He wins the world championship against all the predictions.'' Ferrari looked well out of the drivers' and constructors' championships in June after seven races, with rookie Lewis Hamilton wowing the sport and the futures of Raikkonen and team mate Felipe Massa questioned by some in the Italian media.

Their season, hit by early reliability problems, took another knock when an initial hearing into a spying controversy ruled that then leaders McLaren should not be punished for possessing Ferrari secrets.

But Ferrari never gave up on the track and in the corridors of power.

They were crowned constructors' champions when a second meeting of the governing body decided last month that McLaren should be stripped of all their points following new evidence.

JUSTICE DONE Raikkonen's victory has left Italy feeling justice has been done given that Hamilton and McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso had kept their drivers' points, despite the scandal.

Ferrari held a huge party at their base in Maranello as cars horns honked long into the night across the country, where Ferrari are almost viewed as the national team.

They were given a fright in Brazil when a stewards' enquiry concerning other drivers threatened to rob twice runner-up Raikkonen of his title, but his victory was eventually confirmed.

Raikkonen, who also won the previous race in China to help set up his first world crown, was praised by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.

''Compliments to Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and all the team at Ferrari for an extraordinary victory in difficult circumstances,'' he said in a statement.

Even European soccer champions AC Milan, enduring a tough season of their own, hailed Italy's other famous reds.

''The European champions proudly applaud the new 'red' world champion. Ferrari has won an umpteenth title confirming that they are the best. Italy again has honour in sport,'' a statement said.

Reuters TB GC1445

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