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JANUARY 21, 2001

Trulli backs Raikkonen to match Button

ITALIAN Jarno Trulli has backed Kimi Raikkonen to match Jenson Button's debut season and become an instant success in Formula One.

Finn Raikkonen, 21, will partner Nick Heidfeld at Sauber this year after racing in just 23 single-seater races in his career and Trulli denied that the young driver may find the demands of Formula One too much in his first year.

"I have seen Kimi at every test, getting as many laps as he can, which is the best thing that he can do," Trulli said. "I know he is young, but I think that we should give him a chance because I'm sure he can do it.

"Kimi is having the time of his life just like Jenson did last year an nobody in Formula One has the right to stand in the way of either."

Jordan driver Trulli believes Raikkonen will be a hit in the sport and said he can match Button's achievements in his first season with BMW-Williams. And the Italian insisted the duo can handle the sport in a better way than he did as a young driver.

He added: "I came from Formula Three and had less experience than both Jenson and Kimi, so I have got no problem with either of those two drivers getting into Formula One so young.

"I remember I was very scared. Before I had been in a race, I had only driven 300-kilometer, that is nothing in Formula One. I had to learn at race weekends."

Trulli was involved in a series of incidents with young Briton Button last year, but he denied that he has a problem with the now Benetton driver.

"I have no personal problems with Jenson Button," he said. "He is a very good driver and deserves to be in Formula One.

"Yes, we did have some words to say about each other during last season, but I like him and there are no hard feelings, on my part anyway."