Raikkonen driving into unchartered territory

Raikkonen driving into unchartered territory

The 30-year-old Finn, whose country has produced great champions in both grand prix racing and rallying, is a trailblazer in a sport that requires very different driving skills.

Very few modern Formula One drivers, used to cars that corner as if on rails rather than skidding around churned-up gravel tracks, have attempted the transition and none have had any real success at the highest level.

When Raikkonen drove a Fiat in Finland this year, he was the first active F1 champion to compete in the world rally championship since the late Jim Clark drove a Lotus Cortina in his home British round in 1966.

Britain's Martin Brundle, who never won a grand prix, took part in the British event in 1996 at the end of his F1 career with Jordan but it was not part of the championship at the time.

Until Raikkonen, the last active Formula One driver to enter a world championship rally was Britain's Derek Warwick -- then a Lotus employee -- at the wheel of a Subaru in Britain in 1990.

France's Stephane Sarrazin switched to rallying with Subaru in 2004, with a best result of fourth, after starting one Formula One race with Minardi in 1999 and then testing for Prost and Toyota.

Raikkonen, whose older brother Rami was once a promising rally driver on the Finnish domestic scene, will not be under-estimating the challenge he faces in entering a full season with Red Bull-backed Citroen's junior team but neither should he be under-estimated.

It may be that his is only a one-year involvement before returning to Formula One, although he left that open in announcing the move on Friday, but he will want to make an impact all the same.

His co-driver Kaj Lindstrom partnered now-retired compatriot Tommi Makinen to four successive titles in the late 1990s and can be counted on for expert advice.
Raikkonen crashed out on the second day in Finland while 15th overall, but third in his class, and impressed quite a few rivals and onlookers.

"Kimi did an amazing job, better even than I expected," said Lindstrom after the event. "He just has a natural feel for the car, which allowed him to set times right up there with people who have far more experience than him."

Norway's 2003 world rally champion Petter Solberg, who will be one of Raikkonen's rivals next season, expected the Finn to adapt quickly.

"He's a very, very good driver and once he's learned the basics, like how to work with pace notes, I think he will surprise many people," he told the official wrc.com website.  "We've already seen how quick he was in Finland in a Super 2000 car and if he's in a decent World Rally Car next season I think he could finish between third and fifth on some rallies. The fact is, if you can drive, you can drive."

While Raikkonen has taken the plunge, Formula One has other rally devotees who could one day follow him.

Poland's Robert Kubica is passionate about the sport, frequently attending rallies as a spectator and playing around with his own cars.  He recently entered the French Rallye du Var in a Renault, finishing 29th, as well as an event in Sicily.

Germany's Sebastian Vettel, championship runner-up this season for Red Bull, has also expressed an interest and was a spectator in Finland.  Going in the other direction, Citroen's six-times champion Sebastien Loeb tested convincingly for Red Bull last year and had hoped to compete for sister team Toro Rosso in last month's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but was not granted the super licence he needed.