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Exclusive interview with McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen 08 Jan 2008

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren. McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) and Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mclaren. McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Studio Shoot, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. © McLaren McLaren MP4/23. McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Sutton McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton.

Even when Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jr were confirmed at Renault, the French team’s former driver, Heikki Kovalainen, was all smiles, confident he would find a cockpit for 2008. And late last year Kovalainen was proved right when he was offered the seat left vacant by Alonso at McLaren.

On Monday, at the launch of the MP4-23 in Stuttgart, the Finn made his first public appearance for the British team. With new team mate Lewis Hamilton to contend with, the 26 year-old certainly won’t be in for an easy ride, but he already seems to be relishing the challenge. Here Kovalainen reveals his hopes for 2008 and discloses a little of his strategy for the season ahead…

Q: So, what secrets have you brought with you from Renault to McLaren?
Heikki Kovalainen:
That’s not a funny question. That is a very serious matter as we have seen last season. And honestly, with the competitiveness of McLaren-Mercedes I can assure you that they don’t need any secrets divulged from me.

Q: McLaren seem to have a special relationship with Finnish drivers - how does it feel to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen?
Obviously they do. Probably it’s our mentality of staying cool even if the pot is boiling over that works so well in Formula One and especially with this team. And be assured that it is fantastic for me to follow my successful kinsmen. It will take some time as I am the new kid on the block but you can be sure that I will try and do anything to follow in their footsteps. But right now I am perfectly happy to be a part of the team. The rest - I am very confident in that - will follow.

Q: Lewis Hamilton, the rookie who almost became world champion, will be your team mate this year. How do you think the relationship between the two of you will develop?
I think it will be fine. We will not have any problems together. Of course this is off track. On track he wants to beat me and I want to beat him - badly! But this is normal. I think we can be friends and it can be more like a personal relationship. I don’t know him so well yet - I haven’t been his best buddy and, contrary to what people obviously believe, we never raced against each other in GP2. From what I’ve experienced in the short time with the team I have seen he’s got a great sense of humour. I would say that we are on the same wavelength.

Q: You will race for a very competitive team, alongside a very competitive team mate. How do you expect your season to progress?
First I expect to build up my relationship with the team, to build up a solid position and learn to understand how the team communicates and operates. And I want to improve my start into the season. I don’t want something like the poor beginning in 2007. Even if the car was not so good then, I made too many mistakes. I never want to go through this again, so I am focusing totally to be ready for my first race. I simply want to be competitive.

Q: Hamilton has grown up with the team - you are the new entrant. Do you see this as a disadvantage?
To be a new addition is not automatically a shortcoming. But it is very clear that I have to work between now and Melbourne to find my way around and I am sure that by the time of the Melbourne race I will be fully integrated - and know the name of every single member of the company!

Q: Traction control has been banned for 2008 and there have been suggestions that this could prove dangerous in wet conditions like those we saw at the Nurburgring and the Fuji Speedway last season - what are your thoughts on this?
Of course the driver makes more of a difference now, especially in wet conditions, but that is the beauty of racing - you can test your limits, go right to the edge and still make the next corner. I don’t see any problems in whatever conditions and in the end we all know that racing is dangerous.

Q: Finally, how did you spend the Christmas break?
Fitness training in Finland, doing all those things that Finns do in the winter - cross-country skiing, jogging, sauna - out into the snow - back into the sauna. But just a little more intensively than the average Finn.