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Being Heikki
Being Heikki
Posted By:   |  22 Dec 2008   |  9:18 am GMT  |  8 comments

One of the enigmas of 2008 was the performance of Heikki Kovalainen. Hired by McLaren as a diplomatic team mate for Lewis Hamilton, he fitted in quickly and struck up an excellent rapport with the team, especially the boss Martin Whitmarsh. His contribution and team ethic surprised many people at McLaren and made them ask for more from Lewis. Heikki thinks of things many other drivers don’t think about, not for selfish reasons, like a Schumacher or a Senna, but trying to be helpful to the team. They love him.

But in being unselfish he didn’t get the balance right in his own performance this season. He’s definitely quick and when you adjust for the fuel loads in qualifying, was often as fast as Lewis, but by carrying a bit more fuel than his team mate, he then found himself behind BMWs and the off Renault on the grid and then couldn’t exploit the pace of the McLaren in the opening stint. So he often fell behind.

However he still have fast enough car to deal with that problem and the fact that more often than not he failed to deal with it, indicates a lack of killer instinct, which ties in with this unselfish team player mentality. Even when running in clear air his race pace could be strangely weak, so that is the key area he will be working on for next season. Renault engineers say he’s definitely got it, but he’s struggled to deliver it consistently.

He did his job this year, he backed up Lewis, didn’t make waves and got himself a win. I expect him to have a much stronger year next year and be consistently on the podium, but that streak of unselfishness is always going to count against him when up against the warriors at the front, like Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso and Kubica.

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Why the team compromises heikki's race putting different fuel loads?
In 07 alonso always complained about this, and i tought it was just the champion's paranoia, when being outperformed by a rooky. But after this thing mclaren did to kovalainen this year. It makes me wonder...


in my opinion Heikki did not deliver at Renault and i see no reason why it should be any different at Mclaren, i think that's as good as he gets. He's a good number 2, and that's probably why he was hired. If you're a winner then you don't settle for what Heikki has clearly settled for. Hence why Alonso couldn't stay.

If Mclaren wanted a better performer they should have secured Rosberg or Vettel, but they would have been a stronger challenge to Hamilton which probably would not have worked quite as well for the team.


When a new driver (new to the team - not a F1 rookie) joins a team alongside an established driver it usually takes half a season for the established driver's advantage to wear off - think of Ralf and Montoya at Williams, for instance, or Jenson moving to BAR alongside Villeneuve. (It's also a reason why mid-season replacements are usually a waste of time.) But if anything, Heikki's performance seemed to drop off relative to Lewis's in the second half of the season, for some reason. Very odd!


I'm going to stick up for Heikki - he has been the victim of McLaren's ultraconservative race strategy. Apart from that, his performance has been very competitive.

Yes, there are some oddities. His Friday Practice 1, Qualifying 1 and Race Fastest Lap times did drift away from Lewis over the course of the season, but his Qualifying 2 times were right up there. (In fact, if you include Lewis's disastrous Monza Q2, Heikki's average is marginally faster). On most measures of performance, the McLaren drivers were as close together as the Ferrari drivers.

What did for Heikki was McLaren's insistence on fuelling Lewis very low for Q3 and giving Heikki a much heavier car. Lewis' first stop was on average Lap 15. Heikki's was nearly Lap 19. All other competitive teams were much closer together. McLaren liked to have a few laps in hand to avoid safety car or weather problems, but this harmed Heikki more than it helped Lewis.

Using Fisichella and Alonso as benchmarks, we can be confident Heikki was as fast in 2008 as in 2007. Without looking too closely at the figures, Alonso and Hamilton are on a par (because they scored the same number of points at McLaren in 2007). Heikki was by the end of 2007 comfortably faster than Fisichella, but didn't dominate him in the way Alonso did. So we can assume that Heikki is quite close to Alonso performance, and by extrapolation, to Lewis.

What Heikki maybe should have done of course, is a Raikkonen. From a poor qualifying position with heavy fuel, the only way to tell the world you're really quick is to set some fastest laps near the end of the race.


Yes I really do rate Heikki as a driver, I think many a time he was unfortunate, but I ask everyone this, would Lewis Hamilton still have been champion if there was someone else in the second Mclaren seat, say a Rosberg? Personally I think not, and so hopefully Heikki can up his game next year and help get a few more points for Mclaren to help their title bid.


Heikki did not deliver, plain and simple. There can be no time for excuses in formula 1. Lewis comfortably outpaced him and outraced him during the season and was a deserving world champion. I would much rather see somebody like Button or Vettel in that second McLaren.


"when you adjust for the fuel loads in qualifying, was often as fast as Lewis" if not faster

He has fallen into the Coulthard position at McLaren. Ron has a clear favourite and so the other driver is almost always disadvantaged by fuel and tyre strategies.

Rupert Pilkington-Smythe

You have to remember that this was only Kovalainen's second season in formula one. Even Raikkonen, who went on to WDC glory, didn't out-point Coulthard in his first season at McLaren (and his 2nd in F1).

Kovalainen's progress in 07 and 08 has been much more in tune with a good driver's *natural* learning curve and likelihood of success.

Hamilton is the un-natural one. Obviously he's not the most popular guy in the world and I'm already drawing parallels with Schumacher in that regard. For many years, a large contingent of people believed Schumacher to be grossly overrated - that his success was purely down to team favouritism and sheer good fortune. These days it seems fashionable to suggest LH has been handed everything on a silver platter and that his achievements should be played down or written off.

Ultimately people will have to accept Hamilton, even if they're not going to embrace him.

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