By Daniel Lawrence
Heikki Kovalainen is hoping that 2009 will be a year of marked personal improvement after a difficult debut season for McLaren.
While the Finn demonstrated a searing underlying pace behind the wheel of his McLaren which reared its head in qualifying on more than one occasion a lack of consistency on race day saw the 27-year-old struggle to match his world championship teammate Lewis Hamilton and ultimately cost McLaren the constructors’ championship.
Speaking at the launch of the new McLaren MP4-24 Kovalainen admitted that while last year did not go entirely to plan he still feels it was constructive in terms of his development as a driver.
“Overall last year I still feel it was a positive year although there were some difficult races,” he said. “To finish seventh in the championship was something that I was not planning to do, I wanted to be higher on the grid, but this year hopefully we can start the season and carry on throughout the season in a better shape.”
When asked by Forumula1.com what he had been doing over the winter to address some of the issues that hampered him in 2008 Kovalainen responded: “Just to keep working with the team. Going over the details and analysing what happened last year. I think the last few races were not so bad, although the results might not show that.”
“The race pace was very competitive, so I already felt at the end of last year that we were definitely improving and we were on the right track. Hopefully we can just keep that consistently good. There is no other way than working with the engineers more and looking at all the details. That is the only way to go, I believe.”
Kovalainen began 2008 reasonably well notching up fourteen points in his first three races. But poor reliability and downright bad luck saw him lose momentum in the championship fight, and his horrific accident in Barcelona did little to give him the confidence he needed. Momentum at the start of this year will be crucial for the Finn.
Indeed, the Hungary GP winner hinted that he wants to win on a more consistent basis next year.
“Of course the victory in Hungary was something I would like to repeat this year many times.” Kovalainen said hinting that he plans to be more than just the number two driver at McLaren next year.
When questioned about life in the shadow of the youngest ever Formula 1 champion, Kovalainen seems to be quite relaxed. “It is just good to have a strong team-mate, a good team-mate,” said.
“He is a quick driver, he is a very good character, we get on well with each other and together we can push the team forward. That is the most important thing. Whether he is a champion or not a champion, I don’t feel it makes any difference to me.”
When Renault Boss Flavio Briatore brought Kovalainen in to replace Alonso at Renault in 2006, he stated that he wanted him to be the “anti Alonso”. Kovalainen moved to McLaren after again replacing Alonso, who had a torrid relationship with Lewis Hamilton. Kovalainen has indeed been the Anti-Alonso presiding over a period of peace at McLaren that saw Hamilton under a cohesive team become World Champion. However this season Kovalainen’s position as an individual driver will be very much under scrutiny, this year will give him the chance to define himself as a World Championship material instead of merely the “anti Alonso” driver.