Heikki Kovalainen is looking to catapult himself into the lead at the start of today’s Belgian Grand Prix after a mistake in qualifying dropped him onto the second row of the grid, behind championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
It was a distinctly glum-looking Kovalainen that greeted journalists in the post-qualifying press conference, and his failure to plant his McLaren on the front-row of the grid probably had something to do with it.
The Finnish ace had the measure of team-mate Lewis Hamilton through the opening knock-out qualifying sessions but failed to usurp the Briton in the shoot-out, leading to speculation that he is carrying a few more laps worth of fuel than his McLaren counterpart.
Kovalainen conceded: “Of course it’s the wrong direction from Q2 to Q3. I would rather go from third to being on pole but couldn’t find any more today. It was the maximum that I could achieve today and tomorrow I will try to do better, try to improve the position.”
But the McLaren driver has taken heart from his showing in the opening knock-out sessions: “Well, it has been a pretty good weekend all the way through,” he said. “We have not had any big problems with the car and we have been modifying it little by little trying to increase the pace at the same time.”
“The three sessions in qualifying were fairly straightforward for me, no big problems, but not quite enough to be higher up on the grid. But anyway we have the race tomorrow and we will see if we can be a little bit better.”
The Finn is determined to make up ground at the start. When asked whether he planned to play the defensive game and keep Kimi Raikkonen behind him or try to vault ahead of the front-runners, Kovalainen said: “Both, to be honest. Trying to keep
Kimi behind and overtake both of these two. That would be the ideal plan.”
Although Kovalainen has proved more than a match for team-mate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying – which perhaps explains his disappointment not to edge out the Briton yesterday – he has struggled to keep his team-mate in sight on Sunday.
And while McLaren have insisted that there are no team orders in place for Sunday’s race, Kovalainen is well poised to take points of Hamilton’s chief championship rival Felipe Massa.
Hamilton, who was battling to keep Fernando Alonso at bay in the world championship last year, is pleased to have Kovalainen alongside him.
“I think it’s great for Heikki to know that he’s here, he’s got a comfortable place here next year and we can continue to work together.”
“For me it’s pleasing because Heikki and I get on so well and we do such a great job in testing and everything that we participate in with the team and that’s really the reason why we are so strong this year.”
“It’s not down to one individual, it’s down to all of us really, putting in a hundred percent, so Heikki’s brought a lot to the team, and I’m looking forward to continue working with him for hopefully a lot longer than just next year.”