Raikkonen confident of toppling Schumacher

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Kimi Raikkonen has warned Michael Schumacher that he will have to overcome an even tougher challenge than last season to retain his Formula One drivers' title.

Raikkonen, of Finland, is confident that his success last season, when he only missed out on the title by two points, has put him in a good position to go one better in 2004.

"I am learning in every test and every race," said the McLaren-Mercedes driver. The more I gain miles, the better I am as a racing driver. Last season's experience has brought more speed, more self-confidence and a more mature attitude... and I think it will be easier for me to start to fight for the championship."

Raikkonen, 24, believes his challenge last year was blunted by McLaren's failure to introduce their new car because of reliability problems. He had to use a heavily-modified version of the 2002 model which ensured podium finishes, but allowed him just one victory, the first of his career, in Malaysia.

Raikkonen tested the 2004 version in Jerez earlier this month and believes it has the speed to challenge Schumacher's Ferrari. "The MP4-19 is a very good car," he said. "Like every other team, we still have a lot of work to do, but the base line feels very good. When we really went for it to get a quick lap time, it was there. The car is very stable and there is not any kind of a problem to really push for it."

The season begins in Melbourne on 7 March.