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Kovalainen’s Catch 22 situation for the race
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Kovalainen’s Catch 22 situation for the race
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Aug 2009   |  9:37 pm GMT  |  35 comments

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.
Kova and LH

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.

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35 Comments
  1. Mark McIver says:

    Not much was said today about KERS. If Lewis is using he may shoot off like a rocket. Same with his team mate. The starts lately are very interesting this one could be just as interesting.

  2. Sam98 says:

    You raise another interesting point here… given that the Championships are both out of reach, do McLaren really care which of their drivers win a race that much to engineer things in Hamilton’s favour?

    If I were his manager, given the Rosberg rumours, I’d be telling Kovy to go for it and add a stellar drive to the CV – but that assumes McLaren aren’t prepared to switch strategies to let the golden boy through.

  3. Chris says:

    Let’s not forget that Kov has a different and slower (a few tenths) than Ham, which should make things more difficult for him.

  4. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    James,

    I disagree pretty starkly on how you’re viewing the race to unfold.

    Yes, Barrichello set the fastest time in Q2 when both he and Hamilton were on low fuel. But Hamilton did a grand total of ONE lap during Q2 then parked it. If he had run more laps on his set of options like Barrichello did, there’s little reason to doubt that he would have set a quicker time in Q2 as the option tires came into their optimal range.

    Let’s also not forget that Hamilton set the quickest time in Q1 on PRIME tires, while Barrichello, Button, and even Kovalainen all set their quick times in that session on options.

    I don’t have access to the long-run times from practice, but let’s not forget also that Hamilton basically sat out of FP2 because of his spin. FP1 is basically a trial session, and FP3 was the session to prepare qualifying settings.

    If we’re going by the pace in qualifying, Hamilton is certainly the man to beat tomorrow as long as he just leads going into the start. There’s every reason to believe he’ll have the pace on less fuel and when the options come into their optimal range on the first stint to put enough of a gap on Barrichello to hold him off during the overlaps.

    Furthermore, Barrichello could have a big headache tomorrow in the form of Kimi Raikkonen. He’s lurking in the row behind him and has KERS on the car, and he’s certainly shown how aggressive he’s willing to be on starts this year. He’s also got roughly as much fuel on board as Barrichello. If Raikkonen gets by him, then Barrichello’s race for victory is as good as over.

  5. TinyJim says:

    “was on target for pole until he blew it on the penultimate corner.”

    Hamilton was on target for pole easily had Heikki snatched not made the mistake anyway so that statement isn’t entirely true James ;)

  6. Kovalainen should familiarise himself with how Vitaly Petrov pressured Nico Hülkenberg into a mistake at the start of the GP2 race today…

  7. Carl Craven says:

    Maybe he should just simply try for a win.

  8. Alex Hoy says:

    James, I know you are a shumi and ferrari fun , but to critisise McLaren and think of conspiracies to threw away some of the joy that all McLaren fans had with this unexpected 1-2 is just miserable. These are tactics that only your team is using. Claiming that Heiki did such a mistake on last corner on purpose is a joke!!! He could end up in the barrier and possibly only a computer or a machine-man like shumacher could calculate something like that. The last corner is the most tight and unstable under braking, if there is a place to lose the back end there it is.
    I really was one of the few guys that like your commentary and enjoy your site thinking you are a well informed and objective F1 journalist. This article is a complete joke, you are a joke! I am hugely dissapointed with you. YOur bitternes with Badoer or whatever shouldn’t be the reason to blame McLaren for something hilarious!

    1. James Allen says:

      What on earth are you talking about? I never said he made a mistake on purpose and I’ve said that McLaren’s development has been astounding.

  9. Patrickl says:

    The whole issue will go away when Raikkonen jumps Button, Vettel and Barrichello and slides into P3.

    Problem solved!

  10. Werewolf says:

    This seems to me to be one of those occasions where the driver must think of himself. If Heikki really has to prove he has consistent race pace to retain his seat, then he needs to do so in spades while the opportunity is there, both to maximise his chances of retention and to impress other teams in case he is replaced anyway (or, as James suggests, some sort of deal with Nico Rosberg has already been done).

    The other point to consider is that Lewis is not fighting for the title this year and is unlikely to make the top three. Third in the Constructors’ is achievable for McLaren, however, and it makes no difference which car brings home the points.

    Whilst the situation is interesting, I do not see it as a great dilemma for Heikki. He has to be seen to be capable of winning or risk being considered as a perpetual number two, useful driver for a mid-field team or, worse still, becoming unemployed.

  11. Werewolf says:

    I meant to add, thanks for sharing the thought. It’s little cameos and insights such as these that make the site compulsive.

  12. Andy says:

    How have you got data on Hamilton’s long runs? Or Kovy’s for that matter, since McLaren seem to be using Friday as a test day. Your commentary on qualifying over on ITV seems to ignore the fact that Hamilton set his poll time on his first run, when he was heavier, and that he was on a much faster run when he aborted. Those McLarens are faster than the numbers suggest and, like the Brawns, have proved this season to be relatively faster in the race than they are in qualifying. I’ll bet that McLaren are ahead after the first pit stops, and these comments will be here to make me look like a fool if they aren’t. By the way, no dilemma for Kovy – they’re not racing for championships, so it’ll be full steam ahead!

  13. Tom says:

    Thanks for the insight James. You imagine that if Rosberg is set to join McLaren next season that makes Kovalainen’s performance tomorrow even more important. If Heikki isn’t with McLaren next season, then where will he go?

    Back to Renault? Their young driver programme is really strong – either Grosjean or DeGrassi are a shoe-in for one of their seats next season. That leaves the team leader position open – obviously if Alonso stays then Heikki will need to look elsewhere, but if he goes to Ferrari he’ll need to battle for that seat with Kubica and possibly Massa, Raikkonen or Heidfeld.

    Maybe Heikki will go to Williams, but they seem very keen on bringing Nico Hulkenberg through.

    I wonder if he might end up at Toyota (should they stay in F1). Trulli has been at the team for a long period of time, but has failed to consistently perform.

    If not Kovalinen will need to look to teams slightly further down the field like Force India and the new, up and coming teams (Manor, Campos, USF1) to try to secure a drive.

    How he plays tomorrow’s race is crucial. I’m wondering if he might not be better off driving for his career. Hamilton has nothing to gain really from winning the race. If Kovalainen can win it, he should.

  14. I mentioned your prediction on my blog – but I’m hoping that Hamilton wins and Kovalainen finishes well. Can’t see Rosberg doing much better at McLaren than Kovy TBH … I’m not convinced he’s got what it takes :(

    Interesting that Alonso didn’t go for a glory pole on fumes today at what is his home race…

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, he wasn’t as fast in Q1 and Q2 as he thought he might be, so they didn’t go for it.

  15. Michel S. says:

    Shade of Austria ’99? Ferrari’s lead driver out with injury, and the No. 2 McLaren driver compromising No. 1′s race at the start (hello, David Coulthard!)

  16. George says:

    I dont think Kovy has to help Lewis this weekend, it’s not like last year where it would have counted towards the championship. I think it would be more in his interest to push Lewis rather than playing the team game, what he could really use is a win (there’s little evidence to show that he can do it, the only win he has was gifted to him).

    I think he’s done a reasonable job this year so far if you ignore the accidents at the start of the season, his pace hasn’t been bad compared to Hamilton’s. To be honest I had high hopes for Heikki when he joined McLaren, he had done a very impressive job in the Renault, but the fizz seemed to come out of his driving.

    I read somewhere that it might be the best move for him to move teams now, rather than getting compared to Hamilton all the time, and I’m inclined to agree – so long as it’s not already too late to find a seat.

  17. Ray.C. says:

    I know it’s unlikely, but, if Heikki gets the jump on Lewis and leads the opening laps, would Lewis be expected to hinder Rubens(destroying his own shot at a win),so that Mclaren can avoid being jumped by Brawn?

    …just wondering if it works both ways.

  18. Leddy says:

    Surely, for the sake of his career, he has to do what he is instructed by McClaren? They will be more than aware of the situation behind Lewis. They will probably tell him to hold station behind Lewis at a pace that makes the lead McClaren’s strategy work. This will probably result in Rubens picking up 2nd place during the first round of pit-stops, but McClaren have shown in the past that they are only interested in the top step of the podium.

    Jumping Lewis at the start or pushing hard and therefore giving Rubens clear air to work his fuel load to the optimum, makes no sense for the teams overall strategy. I expect it will be made clear to him what is expected.

    I suspect from a career perspective, this is pretty academic, surely with the drivers available on the merry-go-round for next year, Mr Whitmarsh may prefer the likes of Rosberg or Kubica anyway. This seems more likely given an already public acknowledgment of the precarious nature of Heikki’s tenure.

    Leddy

  19. Martin Collyer says:

    If Heikki does get the better start tomorrow, perhaps Lewis should play rear-gunner and let Heikki escape up the road at 0.5 secs per lap!

    He might then win the race!

    What do you think James?

    1. James Allen says:

      Payback time? Mmm. Kova also has the slightly better strategy with one more lap of fuel

  20. Victor Beamish says:

    “There are some in the media who believe ” …

    You can make whatever point you want based on this template, because there will always be some in the media who believe some incredible thing or the other.

  21. jw1980 says:

    Lets not get too carried away here. In qualifying at times Kovalainen’s been close to Hamilton. However, in the races I cannot recall any occasion this year when Kovalainen has had the better of Hamilton other than in China. You can argue that the team favour Hamilton over Kovalainen just like Ferrari favoured Schumacher over his respective teammates. However, in both cases Hamilton and Schumacher were or are vastly superior drivers.
    A very strong second backing up Hamilton will help Kovalainen’s cause for next season.
    McLaren are looking strong for next year. If Alonso were to go to Ferrari you would expect that team to be strong. However, a problem for Ferrari could be having two strong drivers and this will also happen at Red Bull thus giving Hamilton and McLaren a clear advantage.
    Look at last year. Hamilton won the world championship in an inferior car. Having HK as a teammate no doubt helped his cause. Massa and Raikkonen took points away from each other.

  22. Lady Snowcat says:

    I guess nearly everyone must have had the thoughts you and your Press colleagues had James but we aren’t looking at Championship winning here…

    Maccas best glory would come from a 1-2 and that will only come if Lewis and Heikki try to escape Rubens and get as far up the road as possible before the first pit stop….

    Also Heikki will know if he’s got a contract in the wind for next year either from McLaren or elsewhere…. the best way for him to showcase his talents is to either beat Lewis at the first cornerstick (without taking him out) of stick like glue and take him at the first pit stop…

    So in another year I’d go with your suggestion but I will be very disappointed if Martin suggests it and Heikki agrees to it….

  23. David Hodge says:

    Should be interesting – if McLaren’s equal treatment policy holds, then they are racing as long as they don’t bash into each other.

    From a WDC point of view, I think this is good for Jensen – the McLarens can have 1-2 and he should jump Vettel at the pit stops – and will Brawn call in Rubens for something like an emergency decal polish? (Not that there is much to polish on Brawn cars…)

  24. john g says:

    there’s no reason for heikki to play rear gunner to lewis when his job is on the line. what looks more impressive, allowing your team mate to win (when there is no chance of a WDC) or getting it yourself. those are the simple options. i would be very surprised if he didn’t push hard for the win here – although i don’t believe he will get it.

    as for barri being quickest – that’s what the times say, but hammi aborted his final flying lap having set purple sectors one and two (if i remember right) and heikki messed up, so that might be a bit decieving

  25. Kevin Brock says:

    Thanks for the heads up with Rubens James. £90 coming my way for a lovely 8/1 :)

  26. Dave Roberts says:

    Well James with the benefit of hindsight you called it absolutely spot on! You missed the fact that Maclaren would mess up Lewis’ pit stop but Kovy backing up Rubens was a great call.

    I love this website because not only do you bring us the news but you interpret it as well.

    1. James Allen says:

      That’s the idea! Thanks for that, Dave

    2. Patrickl says:

      I love the analysis too, but it was hardly spot on. In fact he gets just about everything wrong.

      He proposes two possible scenario’s. Of course one of those has to come out.

      Amazingly he still gets it wrong since there was actually a third scenario “Kovalainen is simply slower than Hamilton” and that’s what actually happened. Kovalainen drove his own race. He didn’t hold up Barrichello on purpose.

      Also:
      - Kovalainen was not on his way to pole. Hamilton was going faster behind him.
      - Kovalainen didn’t get away better at the start
      - Q1 and Q3 shows that Hamilton was faster. So overall qualifying shows Hamilton as the fastest and not Barrichello.

      Only the claim that Barrichello had the best race pace was correct and that’s more a feeling than that it really was written in the FP times. Hamilton didn’t really run in FP2 or FP3. FP1 was a parts test for both teams. In fact Hamilton was faster than Barrichello in FP3. Just not enough data to really call it either way.

      I guess the only way to claim that would be to say that Barrichello was faster than Kovalainen and Hamilton wasn’t faster than Kovalainen. In reality Hamilton was more than 3 tenths a lap faster than Kovalainen during the race (20 s/57 laps=0.35 s).

  27. Chris says:

    I echo Dave Roberts. Great job and spot on the money as usual.

    Oh how I wish you were in the BBC chair instead of that numpty Leggard. Oh God how I cringe every GP listening his inane babble. Has anyone else noticed that he is sounding more and more like Stuart Hall, for those who remember It’s a Knockout.

  28. Alastair says:

    Spot on. Your analysis is excellent, and I dont understand why you’re not in the commentary box instead of Jonothan “pushing on, button from vettel, from hamilton, up the hill” Legard. meh. The bloke hasn’t a clue what’s going on. The funniest was when he said to Martin that one of the cars was in trouble, with Martin quickly pointing out that he was in the pits, and therefore going pit lane speed. lol.

  29. Alborz says:

    Agree with the above – you should be on BBC next year

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