2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has been pretty quiet over the winter. His only press coverage has been either him stating that he is fully motivated or his name being mentioned on a testing report.
Kimi stated that he wanted to get back to a winning form after a lackluster 2008, where he only won two races, despite a strong start.
However, the question is: Can Kimi Raikkonen get back on form, and is he up to the challenge?
The challenges that face him are fairly tough. He has to re-establish himself as team leader, win races again after a good 10 months, and also fight off competition from what looks to be a closely-matched grid.
Re-establishing himself as team leader at Ferrari must be done with immediate effect if Raikkonen wants the 2009 crown. Ferrari may have looked back on 2008 and thought "Darn, if only Kimi had let Felipe through here...", which could mean that to avoid disappointment like that of last season, they will support one driver for the majority of the season.
Obviously, Kimi wants that driver to be himself, as he doesn't like the No. 2 role. Throughout his career he has been No. 1 (except in a few races toward the end of 2008), and I doubt he wants this to change.
To fight off Massa, he has to do one thing, and its a lot easier said than done: Win races.
Having not won since the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix (although harsh luck prevented a win in France), Raikkonen will have to push really hard in the opening races. If he reminds Ferrari and the global audience what he is capable of, Felipe will fall by the wayside.
So, Kimi has too objectives so far, both closely intertwined: Win over his teammate and win races.
The third challenge might not be so easy.
It sounds obvious, but the Iceman has to beat the whole grid if he wants to challenge for the crown. A lot of people are hungry for the 2009 trophy, one reason being that all the cars are looking to be as close as they have in a long time.
I hear from fellow Bleacher Report writers that the new car design is suited to Kimi's driving. If this is true, he won't have to fight both the car and other drivers, just other drivers.
Alonso has been consistently fast in the Renault and he wants the championship, Kubica and Heidfeld will both see the upcoming season as an opportunity to win races, Vettel has said that he wants to stand at the top of the podium again, and, of course (if his car is up to it), Lewis Hamilton won't let his crown slip away from him so easily.
Those of us who can remember the days of 2005 and 2007 will realize that most of these drivers aren't much of a threat to Kimi when he's on song, not even Hamilton. The guy is dangerous when he's fast but the only one to laugh in the face of danger is Fernando Alonso, and beating him will be Raikkonen's biggest challenge.
So, is Kimi up to the challenge? Yes, he has said himself that he is more motivated than 2008. Can he re-establish himself as the top driver over Felipe Massa? Yes, by winning races early on.
Can he win the 2009 championship? Yes, but it will be difficult to beat Fernando Alonso.
If you think that the Hamilton-Massa title fight was epic, then just wait for a Raikkonen-Alonso showdown. Roll on, 2009!