Four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen has tipped Kimi Raikkonen for a Rally Finland podium in the Group N category this week.
Raikkonen's Abarth Grande Punto is fifth in the showroom class, but the Ferrari Formula 1 star has already set two top-three stage times today – despite only testing the car for 250km on gravel before starting his first World Rally Championship round.
The 2007 F1 world champion admitted he was too cautious in some sections this morning, but Makinen said he was clearly enjoying the competition.
Asked if he was surprised at Raikkonen's early pace, Makinen said: "No, I'm not. You might be, but I have sat with him and watched him drive. He is very, very natural in the way he drives. He's not aggressive or anything like that, we know where he is. I don't think there are many drivers who could get in the car and do what he is doing."
Makinen added that he was certain Raikkonen would have been a champion in rallying if he had taken to that side of the sport instead of racing.
"For sure, he would have been champion if he came here straight away," said Makinen. "There's no question about that from the driving side, the only thing which might be slowing him down a little bit could be the communication with the co-driver. This is something completely new to him. This is quite a challenge compared with F1, to come and do something new like this is very good for him."
While he did tip Raikkonen for a podium in the car run by his own preparation firm, Makinen added that the emphasis should be on finishing.
"He will get so much experience if he gets to the finish with no problems," he said. "Areas like the communication with the co-driver will really improve if he drives for all three days - that's what we're looking for."
Raikkonen's TMR teammate Anton Alen is running second in Group N, while Juho Hanninen's Skoda Fabia is out front, half a minute ahead.