McLaren: we want to keep Kovalainen, but hell have to improve 19 Aug 2009
While Lewis Hamiltons stunning victory in Hungary put the reigning world champion - and a recovering McLaren - back in centre stage, Hamiltons 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 drivers 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 hasnt 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 hes in the factory at the moment.
Hes working hard. But its true to say we havent 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. Thats 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 Kovalainens 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 Sundays 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 hes 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 Saubers Nick Heidfeld, Williams Nico Rosberg and Force Indias Adrian Sutil, have been tipped to take Kovalainens 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.