Shadow of Alonso hangs over Ferrari drivers
So which current driver's getting this big build-up for the new season? "He's one of the most naturally talented racing drivers you've ever seen. More so than Lewis Hamilton, more so than Michael Schumacher."
Aha, Fernando Alonso, you say. When I tell you that the compliment came from a former McLaren insider, you may want to revise that answer. But keep the Alonso name in mind.
Given the Finn's fall from grace after his 2007 championship success, you can understand why Alonso is relevant.
Raikkonen can inspire and infuriate in equal measure, inside and outside Ferrari, and his performances last season reflect the arguments which bedevil the team's current pairing of Raikkonen with Felipe Massa.
The two of them are not strong enough, the doubters say, to match the gold standard set by Michael Schumacher. His successors suffer from too many limitations which Alonso, for example, does not share.
Alonso to Ferrari has become a familiar storyline, with the strongest - and very credible - report last Christmas in the much respected Italian paper, Gazzetto dello Sport, that the Spaniard had already struck a deal to join Ferrari in 2011 - with an option for 2010 should a vacancy arise.
The whisperers claimed it as proof that the Ferrari hierarchy, unconvinced by its line-up, had made their decision. Ferrari's response was inevitable: Massa and Raikkonen are contracted until the end of 2010, thank you very much and Happy New Year.
And that's exactly what Raikkonen himself is working towards in 2009, and surely needs to, having been outclassed last season by Massa, who was revved up in the form of his life.
Talent is not at issue. Nor is speed. If you had watched Raikkonen fly down a mountain, in the dark, on a snowboard, on a trickiest, unfamiliar run, as I did earlier this year, you'd see what I mean. No fear, no problem, no contest.
Clearly you're no slouch if you've recorded the third highest number of F1 fastest laps, behind Schumacher and Alain Prost. Ten of them were reeled off last season in a car he struggled with, although not enough came in the heat of battle.
But the same former McLaren insider who was so complimentary about Raikkonen, who drove for the team from 2002 until moving to Ferrari for 2007, also raised the prospect of a similar season of frustration and disappointment if the Ferrari F60 showed the same handling characteristics which so flummoxed him in 2008.
Ferrari say the new car is much more to his liking, a picture supported by one rival team official at the Barcelona test who was hugely impressed by Raikkonen's performance - more so than by Massa.
But consider the contrast in the pair's responses to the lack of testing and how teams will work to compensate in their quest to improve the cars under these new conditions.
This is Massa, at the team's pre-season event at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campilgio, "I will work more with the team, be more present and work more on the simulators," he said. "My mentality will change. I will be more efficient at the (race) weekends."
For Raikkonen, driving a simulator sounds like it's on a par with speaking to the media.
"I don't like it. Some people get ill," he said. "I have no plans to be there every second day."
It's classic Raikkonen. He does things his way. Like it or lump it. Nothing will change him.
Until last season, that approach had served him well. But when you're not performing as expected, comments like that only add to the suspicion that the appetite is no longer so keen and the mind contemplating another challenge.
Try a question about rallying, by contrast, and see how the brightness suddenly burns through.
His disinterest in matters technical doesn't make recovery from problems as dynamic as it would with a driver more involved and plugged into a team.
Hence the unfavourable comparisons with Schumacher and the speculation around Alonso.
Massa, meanwhile, exudes bounce and confidence. "I feel very strong. I'm in my best position in Formula One," he said recently. "I've always been under pressure to perform, at Sauber and at Ferrari. I don't need to prove anything."
How much, you wonder, did he prove to himself last season, as much as to his critics? And how much will that count in 2009?
His display in that title finale in Brazil, for example, was stunning. Needed pole. Got it. Needed victory. Did it. Under the most intense pressure, he delivered. His stock within F1 has risen, without doubt, not least for his dignity in defeat.
That said, for all his impressive dominance at tracks like Bahrain and Turkey, a driver with genuine championship ambitions shouldn't go spinning five times, like he did in the British Grand Prix, nor go off the road and out of contention when lying comfortably second, as he did in Malaysia.
While his team-mate is under far greater scrutiny to show the "real" Raikkonen in 2009, Massa's response to his much anticipated return to form will be revealing. His self belief could be put to the test early on if the Finn gets off to a flier in a car with which he feels at ease.
If "Kimi-lite" continues in Australia like he did through much of 2008, however, prepare to hear the Alonso drums growing ever louder.
Ferrari's defence of their 16th constructors' championship has as much to watch out for as any they've won in the last 10 years.