Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he does not expect his Formula One world title defence to be any easier than this year's triumph, particularly with the category radically overhauling its rulebook for 2009.

The Briton, speaking as he and the other McLaren drivers prepared to head off to the frozen wastes of Finland for a special winter training programme, claimed that the new regulations - which demand heavily revised aerodynamics, the return of slick tyres and introduction of optional KERS energy recycling technology - could not only shake up the order, but place different pressures on his own team to raise its game.

Hamilton, having duelled with Ferrari's Felipe Massa throughout the 2008 campaign, appeared to have lost the world title at the final round for a second straight year, but managed to claw back the position he needed to secure the crown on the very last corner of the season, depriving his Brazilian rival by a single point some 20 seconds after Massa had crossed the line to win his home race and take the provisional points lead.

With his time bound by engagements arising from his championship triumph, Hamilton is looking forward to the Christmas break - but, equally, can't wait to begin preparing for the 2009 season, having not sat in an F1 car since that frenetic Interlagos finale.

"Before Christmas, I plan to take a holiday and return fresh and positive to kick-start our winter test programme with the MP4-24," he confirmed, "I've already had a close look at the new car and the engineers have explained the philosophy behind it and just how different things will be next year.

"I've been watching testing with a lot of interest, and I think the new cars will make next year's championship wide open, but I'm really looking forward to tackling the new regulations.

"Brazil already seems a long time ago and I'm now focusing 100 per cent on 2009. I had my seat-fitting at MTC earlier this month and, while the plan at the moment is to start testing in January, I'm really keen to get going."

While McLaren and Mercedes engineers busily prepare for the 2009 season in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart, and the test team readies two cars for December outings at Jerez and the new Autodromo Internacional do Algarve circuit in Portugal, Hamilton and team-mates Heikki Kovalainen, Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett will head to western Finland for a five-day pre-season training camp at the Kuortane Sports Institute.

The centre has helped train some of the world's top athletes, including Finland's Olympic hopefuls, for more than 40 years, and Hamilton acknowledges that, not only does it provide the McLaren team with a useful distraction from the usual pressures of F1, but it also acts as a useful team-building exercise, with mechanics and engineers joining the drivers for group exercises and tests on the Kuortane campus.

"Travelling to Finland for our winter training camp is one of the best weeks of the year for me," the Briton admitted, "It feels like you're miles from anywhere and totally cut off from the outside world. It allows me to focus solely on my training, which is great.

"It's certainly not an easy week: Finland in the winter is cold and icy and we're pushed hard for day after day. We spend the first part of the week doing tests to monitor our core strength and flexibility and spend the rest of the time building on specific exercises that will help us once we're back in the car.

"After Brazil, it's good to get a proper rest because it's the one time of the year when you can relax your training a little - but Finland is when it all starts again in earnest."