MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — Former champion Kimi Raikkonen enters the new season with a chance to break Formula One’s record for most race starts.
The 40-year-old Raikkonen has started 312 races since his debut in 2001, leaving him just 11 race starts shy of breaking Rubens Barrichello’s record of 322 between 1993-2011.
Defending champion Lewis Hamilton has the second-most starts of any driver in the current field with 250.
Raikkonen, driving for Alfa Romeo for a second straight year, is expected to reach the milestone in July at the Great Britain Grand Prix.
But for the tight-lipped and inscrutable Finnish driver, this season appears to be business as usual, which means focusing on overtaking rivals and steering clear of the hoopla outside the cockpit.
“For sure I remember, it is not that far away,” Raikkonen said about his early years behind the wheel.
Speaking on Wednesday during the first day of testing in Spain, Raikkonen said the yearly routine of churning out laps to fine tune the new cars has sapped the preseason of most of its excitement for him.
“Everyone has built new cars and wants to know how they feel, but it is very early days and the only time we will see where you are is in the first race,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what lap times are in testing, you are just trying to improve the car, that is the only interesting thing for us,” he said. “If you take the last 10, 15 years of testing lap times, who is fastest here is not who is going to win the championship. People forget the story year after year.”
Raikkonen, who speaks in a barely audible monotone that combined with his cool-under-pressure driving style has earned him the moniker “The Ice Man,” won the 2007 title for Ferrari by a one point ahead of Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
After a stint competing in rally races between 2009-11, Raikkonen got back into F1 with Lotus and then returned to Ferrari. Now he is back with Alfa Romeu, the team that gave him his debut 19 years ago, when it was called Sauber.
Without many hopes of adding to his 21 career wins given Alfa Romeo’s modest car, Raikkonen will look to improve on his 12th-place finish from last season.
“It’s obviously not as big a team as where I used to be (Ferrari), but it’s a nice group of people and they’re working nicely together,” Raikkonen said after helping unveil the new red-and-white Alfa Romeo C39 at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit.
“We know we have some areas where we can’t match the big teams, but we try to do the best with what we have,” he said. “We can learn from last year’s difficulties and hopefully we don’t repeat (them) this year.”
Raikkonen did not reveal his plans for the future. His contract with Alfa Romeo is up at the end of season.
But baring injury or an unlikely driver switch, by that time he will have become the driver with the most race starts ever in F1.
More AP racing: https://www.racing.ap.org