MANAMA - Buoyed by the a revitalised driver pairing and a much-improved power unit, Ferrari have breathed new life into Formula One's world championship battle this year - and appear ready to make it stick.
The Italian team, which ended a two-year win drought when Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix, saw the 'ice man' Kimi Raikkonen roll back the years on Sunday with a resurgent second place behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
This form has lifted them into a strong second place in the constructors' championship behind champions Mercedes and set up the prospect of a thrilling title fight as the series heads back to Europe next month for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Finn Raikkonen, 35, who won the championship with Ferrari in 2007, has rekindled his own form and blended with new boy, four-time champion Vettel this season.
And, for many observers, including Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene, he is showing the performance levels that will lead to him earning a new contract with the scarlet scuderia.
But talk of Ferrari catching and passing Mercedes in overall performance on a consistent basis may well be premature.
"I'm very happy with the team and I think many people didn't expect, after last year, that we would be in this position this early," said Raikkonen, after grabbing second ahead when Nico Rosberg's Mercedes suffered brake failure at the end of Sunday's race.
"We will start winning more races. We have to be patient and do the same work as we have done so far and we will get there.
"We had decent speed here and I think we just have to keep working and improving the whole package. I'm sure we will get there and we can fight every weekend after that." He added: "The whole package has gone forward. A big chunk of it is the engine, but you cannot give all the credit to them. The car has improved a lot, there's a lot more down-force, it's handling a lot better.
Major upgrade at Ferrari
"All areas have improved. That is the key. People are working more closely, which has helped us get to where we have now."
Ferrari are planning another major upgrade to their power package for the Canadian Grand Prix in June - news that will delight the tifosi and most neutrals, but shrewd paddock observers believe Mercedes has plenty of potential in hand and will match their nearest rivals as the season unfolds.
Raikkonen, on current form, not only deserves another year at Ferrari, but could emerge as a title contender, according to Arrivabene whose hands-on approach to his job has revived team spirit.
"I am really happy for Kimi!" said the Italian, whose emotional and humorous connection to his work has delighted all observers.
"I can officially state that he's back!
"He showed what a race animal he is and if he had had a few more laps perhaps...
"Sebastian made a couple of mistakes, one at the beginning, which forced us to change his strategy, whereas in the case of Kimi we followed our plans."
He added: "I'm happy with the drivers we have... That doesn't mean I am going to sign tomorrow with Kimi. I said to him - 'it depends on your performance' - and he has demonstrated he is a great driver.
"If you're asking me if he deserves to renew the option now, I'm going to say yes, but if I'm going to say yes, I do not want the driver to fall asleep.
"This a psychological approach. The paper at the moment is white. Sometimes you have to take the pen and take it away -and then Kimi is going to the podium!"