Raikkonen is warned over rally move

Mika Hakkinen cautions his Finnish compatriot to expect a tough introduction to the World Rally Championship.

Kimi Raikkonen made the switch from F1 to rallying during the winter.
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ABU DHABI // Mika Hakkinen, the two-time Formula One world champion, has cautioned Kimi Raikkonen, his Finnish compatriot, to expect a tough introduction to the World Rally Championship (WRC) when the new season gets under way today in Sweden. Raikkonen, the winner of the 2007 F1 drivers' championship, left 16-time constructors' champions Ferrari last year to take a permanent seat on Citroen's WRC Junior Team. He will race in 12 of the championship's 13 races, including this weekend's season-opener in Karlstad.

But while Raikkonen hopes for an easy transition from F1's smooth tarmac to rally's more testing terrain, Hakkinen expects his countryman to struggle to get to grips with his new career choice. "I tried rally many times and if you want to be at the top of the podium in rally, it's going to take a massively long time," said Hakkinen, who was in the capital yesterday announcing the shortlists for the Laureus Sports Awards.

"In Kimi's case, he is a fantastically talented driver and he has all the chances, but it takes time. It takes years before you can perform at the top level. And the media is going to focus on him - especially in Finland. He has to be careful and really work hard." Raikkonen is famed for his withdrawn demeanour and an eagerness to shun the spotlight, but Hakkinen, the F1 world champion in 1998 and 1999, says such characteristics will have to change if the 30-year-old plans to reach his full potential in the WRC.

"He will have to work even harder than he did in Formula One, not only on the driving side, but also outside the driving: teamwork, media work, etc," said Hakkinen, who retired from racing in 2001 after winning 20 grands prix in a career that spanned a decade. "You have to co-operate and it's challenging - there is no escape. In every sport you cannot just perform your sport, you have to do everything that goes on around it. You have to face the challenge."

Raikkonen, who competed in last year's Rally Finland and was placed 15th shortly before crashing out on the penultimate day's final stage, said he is ready for the test that lies ahead. "My goal is simply to do my best with the Citroen C4 WRC. My debut [season] in the World Rally Championship is an enormous challenge, but any driver who has competed in motorsport at a certain level always maintains the same way of working and the same desire to push themselves," he said.

The 18-time grand prix winner hinted he may return to F1 next year, with Red Bull Racing being strongly linked. Raikkonen held talks with McLaren-Mercedes before opting to quit the sport. "I think the decision to go to the WRC was perfect for him: he wanted to go to rally so why not let it be like that," said Hakkinen. "In Formula One, when you are a champion, you can always come back - always there are doors open. The question is which teams offer seats. You will always get a drive, but you want to come back in a winning team with a winning car. That is the target."