Milestone start awaits Kimi Raikkonen

May, 23, 2012
05/23/12
3:43
PM ET

Few could have forecasted the immediate success Kimi Raikkonen has enjoyed in his return to the sport, and his ability to adapt has been impressive to say the least. He has come so close to victory lately, but has wound up just short, and a win at Monaco on Sunday would surely make a title statement.

It is a banner weekend for Raikkonen, as he will be making his 161st recognized start in Formula One, tying him with the legendary Mika Hakkinen for the most by a Finnish driver. While both have compiled impressive numbers throughout their careers, they are also known for bringing the fight to some of the greatest drivers in F1. Both Hakkinen and Raikkonen finished runner-up to Michael Schumacher during his dominant stretch, feats that should not be taken lightly considering Schumacher's remarkable run.

Raikkonen, however, would be surpassing Hakkinen in Monaco had it not been for an unusual occurrence back in 2001 at the Belgian Grand Prix. After a scary accident only a few laps into the event involving Luciano Burti and Eddie Irvine, the race was completely restarted, but Raikkonen was unable to take to the grid, as his car had already expired. Therefore, he was not credited with a start. It was a very odd scenario and one that continues to create some confusion surrounding his start totals even today.

Nevertheless, it is a milestone grand prix for Raikkonen, and if he were to win, he'd be just one victory shy of matching Hakkinen's total. The two certainly have more of a link than most drivers, as not only are they from the same nation, but Raikkonen once served as Hakkinen's replacement at McLaren. The challenge of replacing a champion must at times seem overwhelming, but Raikkonen has had little problem living up to expectations throughout his career.

A win for Raikonnen also would make him the 13th driver in history to win Monaco twice, and it would place him among greats such as Fernando Alonso, Niki Lauda and Juan Manuel Fangio. He recently spoke to reporters about returning there, saying: "To race in the streets of Monte Carlo is really different from everywhere else; a challenge I look forward to every year. It is very, very difficult, almost impossible, to have a clean weekend there. I've only managed to get it right once before -- you really do get the greatest feeling by winning it. My win in 2005 ranks up there with my most memorable. Monaco is always special. It's an interesting place to go to, with a lot of fans and a lot of parties going on, or so I'm told. It's a completely different atmosphere from anywhere else."

As for Pastor Maldonado, another victory in Monte Carlo seems decidedly unlikely, but history has not completely written him off. In each of the past three occasions that Spain has directly preceded Monaco, the winner in Spain then has converted that momentum into victory on the winding streets. Going back a bit further, it has happened in five of the past six opportunities. It has made for a very interesting trend, considering the circuits are completely different.

The one similarity the venues do have in common is that qualifying up front is imperative, and Maldonado will need another brilliant qualifying effort to have a reasonable chance of winning, as seven of the past eight winners here started on pole.

Overtaking is notoriously difficult here, but it can be done, especially coming out of the tunnel on the approach to Turn 10. That's where Alonso did a considerable amount of overtaking in 2010 when he started in the back.

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