Felipe Massa has singled out Lewis Hamilton - the driver who narrowly pipped him to the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship crown - as his toughest competitor again in 2009, but warned the Briton that he believes he is in 'the best position of his career' right now.

Having thoroughly dominated the race, Massa agonisingly lost the title on the very final lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix in front of his adoring home fans at Interlagos back at the beginning of November. He admits that it was a character-building experience and one that still haunts him - but equally one that has made him stronger heading into the new season.

"Losing the 2008 championship on the last turn of the last race made me reflect," the 27-year-old told the Apcom news agency. "I'm going to utilise this experience to improve this season.

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"The most important thing is becoming world champion, and that's what I want. There's always a lot of pressure, especially with Ferrari, but I've already won many races and I don't have to show anything anymore."

"Everyone starts from zero after the rule changes," he added, "but I am probably in the best position of my career."

Whilst picking out McLaren-Mercedes star Hamilton as his and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's 'biggest rival' over the coming months, the S?o Paulista also suggested that BMW-Sauber duo Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld would mount a strong threat, as will Renault's Fernando Alonso, a man who has been repeatedly linked to a future in scarlet over the past year - a situation to which Massa gives short shrift.

"It's been said for 18 months that Alonso will come to Ferrari," he mused, "and he is still not there. My contract runs until 2010 - let's see if he comes then. These are just rumours; sometimes they come true and sometimes they don't. Many things can change, but for now we're only talking about rumours."

The eleven-time grand prix-winner got behind the wheel of the Scuderia's new F60 challenger at Mugello earlier this week, and he acknowledged that the new front and rear wings dictated by governing body the FIA, as well as the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology coming into force, are quite a departure from what drivers have been used to of late.

"We have a very different car from last season," Massa confirmed. "It slips a lot, especially with the slick tyres. There are a lot of new things and we're going to have to adjust. For example, I'm not able to take full advantage of the impact of the big front wings yet.

"The biggest change is in the aerodynamics, which completely alters the way we drive. The KERS modifies the braking a little, but it won't be a huge problem. It's more positive than we thought. It allows you to improve performance."