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McLaren: we want to keep Kovalainen, but he’ll have to improve 19 Aug 2009

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 23 May 2009 Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 21 May 2009 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren MP4/24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Budapest, Hungary, Friday, 24 July 2009

While Lewis Hamilton’s stunning victory in Hungary put the reigning world champion - and a recovering McLaren - back in centre stage, Hamilton’s team mate Heikki Kovalainen is yet to make a real impression this season. With five retirements and only three point-scoring finishes, Kovalainen is languishing 12th in the standings - a full 19 points adrift of the tally he had after 10 races in 2008.

For a driver without a confirmed seat for next season, it must be a worrying time. And while team boss Martin Whitmarsh is full of praise for the Finn, he also revealed that he will be looking for an improvement in his driver’s results over the coming Grands Prix, if the 27 year-old is to keep his race drive.

“Heikki, as a team player, is doing a fantastic job,” explained Whitmarsh during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session. “By his own evaluation he hasn’t raced as well as he would have liked, and we would have liked him to, this year. I was just talking to him on the subject about three minutes before I came to this call, as he’s in the factory at the moment.

“He’s working hard. But it’s true to say we haven’t confirmed our driver line-up for next year. A lot of us want to see Heikki get some good results this year and that will ensure that he will remain with us. That’s certainly our wish and his goal going into Valencia this weekend is to win and he is capable of winning the race this weekend.”

According to Whitmarsh, one of Kovalainen’s strengths is his qualifying ability. And he wants his driver to concentrate on maintaining his Saturday pace, which has seen him clinch two consecutive sixth-place grid slots over the last two races, whilst also raising his game during Sunday’s action in order to get some vital points.

“He has been a good qualifier and has done some good qualifying times, and he is capable of qualifying well and winning this race,” added Whitmarsh. “So that is what he’s going to focus on, and I've just had that conversation with him. Then on Sunday evening he will start thinking about Spa, and that is what we want him to focus on - not all the speculation.”

Several Germans, including BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, Williams’ Nico Rosberg and Force India’s Adrian Sutil, have been tipped to take Kovalainen’s place in the Mercedes-powered team next year, but Whitmarsh was quick to dismiss the rumours, stating that they are not involved in any active negotiations with other drivers.

“I can confirm that contrary to some of the speculation we are not in discussions with any drivers outside this team at the moment,” he concluded. “In terms of nationality, some nationalities from a marketing perspective are obviously more convenient. But I think McLaren continues to have the strategy and policy that we will get the two best drivers that we can in our cars every season, and that is what we will continue to do.”