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Formula one: RAI-SING THE STAKES; Kimi turns up the heat on his F1 rivals.

Byline: MICHAEL DERBY

KIMI RAIKKONEN, Finland's latest iceman of Formula One, is turning the heat on the world championship favourites.

The 22-year-old successor to double champion Mika Hakkinen at McLaren Mercedes was barely mentioned as a potential title challenger before the season started.

But his assured third place and fastest lap in the Australian Grand Prix sent a clear warning to his rivals.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari's reigning champion and race winner at Melbourne, said: "Kimi has to be considered by everyone as a contender this season."

And McLaren team-mate David Coulthard, forced out by gearbox trouble in the opener, admitted: "I see Kimi as a competitor for the title. He's got points on the board, I haven't, so I'm not happy with that."

Raikkonen went into today's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang aiming to build on his first podium finish. He said: "Now that I've made the podium the next target has to be a win. If I do win races then I might start thinking about the championship, but I'm not looking too far ahead."

Raikkonen joined McLaren after just one season in F1, and one man who was convinced he would take the switch from Sauber in his stride is the driver's manager, Steve Robertson. "Kimi is not only very good, he's also very calm," said Robertson. "I'm sure you'll see even better performances from him this season.

"Kimi is not one to beat his chest and tell the world what he's going to do. He's happy to be the underdog. But he's not in awe of anyone. He's there to take them all on."

Jaguar, meanwhile, could be in for more behind-the-scenes upheaval if they don't show a drastic improvement. The beleaguered outfit parted company with technical director Steve Nichols even before the season started and team boss Niki Lauda has warned further changes are possible. He told an ally he would have signed up an entirely new design team if he had been able to.

Eddie Irvine took fourth place in Australia but admitted it was a fluke and Jaguar revealed they were considering reverting to last year's car in a desperate bid to save face.

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FIN-TASTIC: Raikkonen caught the eye with his third place in Melbourne
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 17, 2002
Words:373
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