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Exclusive interview with Heikki Kovalainen 06 Apr 2007

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 5 April 2007

Why the Finn's F1 race career really starts at Sepang

The golfer knows the advantages of the 'Mulligan'. A new game, you make your first stroke, it’s a bad one, you declare it a 'Mulligan' - and start all over again. The Australian Grand Prix was Heikki Kovalainen’s 'Mulligan'. So will the Malaysian race prove to be more successful for the Finn? Kovalainen certainly thinks so…

Q: What happened to you in Melbourne? It looked as if you got cold feet…
Heikki Kovalainen:
No, no cold feet. Everything was warm, even the feet. It was just a difficult start. I didn’t qualify well, I started from 13th position and thought that I would make up some places in the race, but then I made some mistakes. Well it’s all behind me now and I don’t think about it anymore too much. I don’t waste time over spilt milk.

Q: Flavio Briatore has criticized you for your performance. How did you cope with that?
HK:
I don’t mind criticism if it is founded. And Flavio’s criticism clearly had reasons. I was not happy with my race, I didn’t need to be told that it was not good, I knew myself. Flavio said what he said and I can cope with that. In fact I prefer that it is said loud and clear as we never try to hide anything. We are very open in that. If something is disappointing, like the race in Melbourne, then we say it in the open - then we sit down with the engineers and try to get to the bottom of the problem - and move on.

Q: Giancarlo Fisichella demanded a radical change to ensure the team would be able to fight for the world championship. What is your take on that?
HK:
We have been talking to the engineers and designers and the outcome was that we will not design a new car in the middle of the year. But there is no magic trick in changing our performance, we first have to understand why the car is not performing like last year - and after that we can make changes, while simultaneously continuing the planned developments. Step-by-step we will eventually move forward. We already made progress at last week’s test - and with every race and every test we will gain back our strength.

Q: What changes do you think need to be made?
HK:
As I just said it, will be a step-by-step development and not the big overhaul. The team knows that the car is not fast enough, so you can be sure that they work flat-out as they are the world champions and will not easily give in. And if I manage to keep the car on the track you will see our comeback within the next few races.

Q. Renault’s inability to gain the maximum potential from the Bridgestone tyres was a significant reason behind the team’s lack of speed. But last week’s times during testing in Sepang seemed to indicate that the team was on it’s way to solving that problem…
HK:
Absolutely! The lap times on the last day were very competitive. We did some longer runs that also looked very competitive, so keep your fingers crossed for this weekend! But don’t get me wrong - we know that we have still a lot work to do to get us where we have been last year.

Q: But there is still something missing in the Renault’s performance. What is it? Tyres? Aerodynamics?
HK:
A little bit of both. I think that the main issue is that we don’t have a 100 percent answer to where and why we have a lack of performance. Another thing is that our car is a little inconsistent, meaning that it is very sensitive to changes in the climate. If it is windy or the temperature changes - the car is a little nervous. Like a real diva.

Q: Was the tyre issue the main focus during this test? What else was on your test agenda? Introducing new parts?
HK:
Not many new parts. Lap time wise we are talking about a few hundredths (of a second). No upgrade to the engine due to the regulations specifying you have to use the same engine for two races. Aerodynamic wise small bits, but nothing major. The biggest changes we did were to the set-up - without going into detail. But everything looked a lot better after the test - so we are looking forward to seeing the results on Sunday.

Q: You hammered in the fastest time on the fourth day of testing. That must make you more positive about the Malaysian Grand Prix…
HK:
You can bet on that. After Melbourne it was psychologically important for me to do fast laps. It always helps to know that you’ve still got it. And sometimes after a poor race you go back and work even harder - and that was what we did.

Q: So what is your strategy for Sunday?
HK:
To do a good race - without mistakes. I think it’s absolutely essential now. To keep the car on the track, not pushing too much.

Q: And where do you expect to finish when the chequered flag comes down?
HK:
I’m definitely focusing on finishing in the points - hopefully not just one point but plural points. It will be difficult to win, so I’m concentrating on doing the maximum possible. Let’s wait and see what it will be.