Exclusive interview - Renaults Heikki Kovalainen 01 Oct 2007
Lewis Hamilton may have won Sundays Japanese Grand Prix, but the happiest man on the Fuji podium was undoubtedly Heikki Kovalainen. After an intense battle with compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the closing laps, Kovalainen came home second for his maiden Formula One podium - and Renaults first of 2007.
When he returned to the motorhome after the post-race press conference, all he wanted to do was check out his trophy. But when he was finally persuaded to talk, he left you in no doubt that he believes this is only the start of bigger things to come
Q: You look as though you literally dont want to let go of this trophy. How does it feel to finally have some Formula One silverware in your hands?
Heikki Kovalainen: Yeah, its a great feeling. I had hoped that such a result would come earlier this season but its been quite a rollercoaster year for us, with some difficult races for me personally, but this result today - and the trophy - compensates a lot. We have proved that under difficult conditions we manage to keep it all together! It is a fantastic result - for me and the team!
Q: At what point in the race did you realize that you might finish on the podium?
HK: Around ten laps before the end I saw that the gap between Felipe (Massa) and me was around three seconds and that he was catching up, but not big time. Then I got the information over the radio that Kimi was behind me and I felt that he was catching up very quickly. But I knew that it would be very difficult for him to overtake me as there was still much water on the track and the conditions were quite critical. He finally overtook me on the last lap - but I managed to overtake him back again. So the second spot on the podium was all mine.
Q: Obviously the teams strategy played very much to your advantage. How did that work out?
HK: As we did not qualify among the top ten we had the freedom to choose and we decided to run on high fuel because in such conditions you never know what is going on - when and how often there will be a safety car phase - so our goal was to have a lot of flexibility in our strategy. So I did not have to stop very early but could push for a long period. That was one of the keys to the good result - and that the tyres worked very well on the car today.
Q: Renaults Engineering Director Pat Symonds said that much of your success was down to the fact that you knew perfectly when to attack and when to hold position
HK: I wanted to attack every lap has hard as I could but at the same time make sure that I dont make any mistakes because as soon as you were going off line the conditions changed dramatically. I tried to keep the concentration and when I realized that a podium finish was within reach I pulled all my forces together to go for it, even when I had some problems with aquaplaning I wanted to go flat out. I simply wanted to take my chance for a fantastic finish. And it worked out perfectly.
Q: Did the wet conditions play to your advantage?
HK: Absolutely! If it had been a dry race I think the best we could have hoped for was seventh or eighth. McLaren, Ferrari and BMW are still faster than us. So for sure the wet conditions were immensely important for our result.
Q: How did life look from up there on the podium?
HK: Ah, it looked great! I have been there before but not in Formula One. It felt very good and now that the spell seems broken I want to be up there more often. And as soon as I get a package to do that more often I have to be ready! So this was somewhat of a dress rehearsal.
Q: And do the indications point to more of the same in 2008?
HK: Could be. At the moment we still have a lot of work to do but I am pretty optimistic that we are on the right track.
Q: Flavio Briatore had to leave before the end of the race, but he called you after the podium ceremony - what did he say?
HK: He said, Very well done! For the last view races Ive been very good and he seems to be quite happy with my performance - despite the difficult start. He said that this result was important for me, and the whole team.