By Ewan Marshall
McLaren have vowed to offer all the support they can to Heikki Kovalainen over the next few races as the Finn attempts to secure his place in the team in 2010.
Speculation continues to surround Kovalainen’s future with some rumours suggesting that Williams driver Nico Rosberg will replace him.
Kovalainen set a blistering pace in qualifying for Sunday’s European Grand Prix but he struggled for performance in the race and dropped to fourth place.
However, McLaren’s Managing Director, Jonathan Neale, who has been working with Kovalainen personally to overcome some of the problems he has been having on race day, has given the 27-year-old a ringing endorsement ahead of this week’s Belgian Grand prix in Spa.
“I think Heikki had a really good weekend.” Neale told Forumula1.com during the McLaren-Mercedes ‘phone-in’ session on Wednesday. “There were lots of talk after Hungary in the media and here, about how we were going to support him with his race pace.”
“He’s always qualified really aggressively and, in particular, if you look at his performance in Q2 he’s been phenomenal. And he is a very quick driver.”
Neale admitted that Kovalainen had experienced problems this season but insisted that the team had been doing everything in its power to ensure that the Finn overcame such issues.
“I think we’ve been asking ourselves the question: are we doing enough to help him protect the tyres and therefore maintain the inherent pace that he has?” revealed Neale, “Is there anything that we can do to support him with both the car, the tuning and in the simulator with his driving style?”
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him, pre-Valencia, taking that apart systematically. and I personally was very pleased with his drive on the weekend.”
Neale also suggested that Kovalainen’s lack of pace in Sunday’s European Grand Prix had been through no fault of his own and that a team decision had ultimately cost him finishing on the podium.
“P1, P2 he was pushing.” explained Neale, “His qualifying lap nearly eclipsed Lewis, who is no slouch of course. If it hadn’t been for that shake and that wobble just coming into the last turn then it was clear to us that he would have been on pole. So he set a qualifying very good.”
“Stints one and two were good and then through no fault of Heikki’s we putâ€¦ used prime tyres onto his third stint rather than new tyres and as a result they were slower to warm up.”
Although he would not be drawn into discussing Kovalainen’s future with the team, Neale said that he hoped the Finn would now build on last weekend’s result and carry his form into Spa.
“Coming out of the weekend is there a difference between Heikki’s race pace and Lewis’s for that event? Yes. Is it very much? No.” Neale added, “I think that Heikki can now take that with some confidence and build going into Spa, so well done Heikki.”