I went to dinner at Bridegstone this evening with some of my colleagues from the UK and Irish media. We got talking about the race ahead and it struck me that Heikki Kovalainen is in an awkward position tomorrow in the race, so I thought I’d come back here to the press office and share it with you.
The way I see it, Heikki has been under some pressure from the McLaren management lately, with team boss Martin Whitmarsh saying on Friday during practice that, “He’s done some great qualifying, but we know and he knows that he has got to be more consistent with his race performances in long runs.”
So he knows that he has to put that right starting this weekend. Essentially this means not dropping off the back of Lewis Hamilton in the first stint tomorrow and throughout the race.
However here’s the rub. If you look at the fuel weights, Hamilton seems to be pitting on lap 16. Kovalainen on lap 17 and Barrichello on lap 20. If you look at how fast Rubens was in Q2 and Q3 therefore and you study the long run times from practice, you can clearly see that he should win the race tomorrow with that strategy.
The only way to stop him from jumping both McLarens in the pits stops is for Kovalainen to hold him up and let Lewis get away at around half a second per lap; you see where I’m going with this?
This is what I thought they would do in Hungary, but McLaren didn’t go aggressive on a lighter fuel load there in qualifying and as it turned out Lewis won anyway because the Brawns and Red Bulls had set up and tyre issues.
So what does Kovalainen do? He’s been close to Lewis’ pace on the whole this weekend and was on target for pole until he blew it on the penultimate corner. To ensure another victory for McLaren he should make Rubens’ life difficult. But for his career, seeing as Whitmarsh has chosen to put the spotlight on him this weekend, he needs a very strong race performance.
One little side note to this is that it seems from the support races so far that the car starting on the outside of the front row has generally had the better start, so Kovalainen may be leading in the opening stint tomorrow, with more fuel that Hamilton, which would make Barrichello’s life even easier.
There are some in the media who believe that Nico Rosberg has already agreed a deal to replace Kovalainen at McLaren, so maybe it’s too late anyway, but keep an eye out on the ‘other’ McLaren tomorrow; he could play a significant role in the outcome.