The thorny matter of team orders is in the spotlight again, with McLaren denying that Kovalainen is being earmarked for a support role in the team.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” was the advice of Theodore Roosevelt. McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen, one of the most affable and congenial drivers in the paddock, embodies this wisdom in abundance.
The problem for Kovalainen at the moment is that his stick – a searing pace behind the wheel of his McLaren, which on its day is as destructive, if not more so, than that of team-mate Lewis Hamilton – has yet to be fully unleashed in the heat of the battle, when it counts, on race day.
Hockenheim was a case in point. Take fuel loads into account, not to mention his ‘rallycross’ moment on the final corner, and the Finn was on course for pole position, an advantage he seized to such devastating effect at Silverstone a fortnight earlier.
Come Sunday though Kovalainen was in a different league to his team-mate as he struggled to tame the rear end of his MP4-23 over the course of an entire race stint. It was a truth which materialised most visibly on Lap 52 when the Finn took it upon himself to yield to Hamilton, allowing the considerably faster Briton to chase down the race victory, which had been compromised by the deployment of the safety car.
The move, which bore an all too similar resemblance to the synchronised way Lewis Hamilton seized the advantage in the wet at Silverstone, received intense scrutiny in the press and led commentators to speculate that the Finn was being earmarked for a support role in the McLaren camp.
McLaren deny that is the case and have been working hard at the McLaren Technology Centre to help Kovalainen unleash his full potential in the race. Such is the effort to ensure equality between their two drivers that Team Principal Ron Dennis was forced to respond to comments from Sir Jackie Stewart suggesting that Lewis Hamilton will require support from Kovalainen if he is to win the world championship.
“He (Hamilton) has to be well supported by his teammate,” the triple world champion and RBS ambassador Sir Jackie Stewart told The Mirror. “Kovalainen has got to be able take a position away from a Ferrari driver,” Stewart added.
Dennis was having none of it: “The fact is that Sir Jackie retired from motor racing in 1973, which is 35 years ago, and the sport has moved on in that time,” he said on Sunday, according to Reuters.
“Jackie’s suggestion that Lewis’ world championship campaign depends on Heikki’s assistance presupposes that Heikki’s task is to drive in support of Lewis – and that simply isn’t the case,” he said.
The reality is that Hamilton is looking too quick to even depend on second driver support. With the McLaren-Mercedes package looking quick just about everywhere at the moment, if team orders are to rear their ugly head again, it would not be a shock to see them come from across the garage at Ferrari.
Kimi Raikkonen has already admitted that either he or Massa may have to help each other at the end of the season.
“You are always going to have a fight with your team-mate and towards the end of the season,” he said.
“We might reach a point where one driver has a clearly better chance than the other, so a decision might have to be taken to see if one driver helps the other. But there is a long way to go before then.”
Roll on Brazil…
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