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A race weekend with… Heikki Kovalainen 14 Oct 2008

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Friday, 10 October 2008 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren with Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Race Day, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Sunday, 12 October 2008 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren MP4/23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Saturday, 11 October 2008 (L to R) Norbert Haug (GER), Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, and Heikki Kovalainen (FIN), McLaren, McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, Italian Grand Prix 2008, Monza, Sunday, 14 September 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Heikki Kovalainen (FIN), McLaren, McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, European Grand Prix 2008, Valencia, Spain, Saturday, 23 August 2008 © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images

Last year, Heikki Kovalainen enjoyed his best result of the season at the Japanese Grand Prix. On Sunday, however, Kovalainen was unable to repeat his second-place 2007 finish, after an engine failure relegated him to the sidelines. Despite this disappointment, the Fuji Speedway remains a firm favourite with the McLaren driver and we caught up with him to find out about his Japanese event, and discover a little more about how he likes to spend his time ‘in the office’ over a race weekend…

Q: We were in Fuji this weekend, what do you associate with this circuit?
Heikki Kovalainen:
Everyone remembers the rain from last year! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such heavy rain and limited visibility - they were probably the worst conditions I’ve experienced in my entire racing career. On the other hand, I had one of my best races in Formula One here last year, coming second - which was a great way to round off my first season as a Grand Prix driver. I also think everyone thinks about the mountain, Mount Fuji - especially this year, when we could see it properly for the first time! At this weekend’s race, luck was not on my side - but that’s racing - and I’m looking forward to this coming weekend in Shanghai and hopefully more luck.

Q: You don’t take to the track until Friday morning, but when do you like to fly in?
HK:
It depends. When you go to the flyaway races, you need to be there a bit earlier than normal so that your body can get used to the different time zone. It’s also nice to arrive a bit early because you sometimes get a chance to visit places you wouldn’t normally see during a race weekend. I suppose I fly to most races on the Wednesday afternoon - and it’s a bit earlier for the flyaways, maybe the Monday or Tuesday.

Q: Do you make an effort to discover your surroundings at a race, or do you stick to the airport-hotel-track-airport itinerary?
HK:
No, you get up early to get to the track and there’s not really enough time at the end of the day to go exploring. Sometimes you get a chance to see some nice places - you might go to an event in a city or something, and I do like to explore some of the places we visit. I am going to Tokyo for a few days after Fuji, for example. Japan is a fascinating country.

Q: What’s your exercise regime over a race weekend? Does it vary according to the race location, demands of the circuit etc?
HK:
Your exercise programme over a race weekend is basically just driving the car!

Q: What’s your preferred accommodation at races - city hotel, hotel near the circuit, or your own motorhome near the paddock?
HK:
It’s always better to be near the circuit, but it depends. Some races are in the middle of some cities so you can stay really close, right in the middle of a city - that’s the best solution. But when you go to some of the more isolated tracks, like Spa and Silverstone, you need to be near the circuit. For Fuji, I stayed in the Conrad in Tokyo before travelling to the circuit, where we stayed in a nearby hotel - but unfortunately it wasn’t a Conrad or a Hilton.

Q: Is there anything you have to have provided in your hotel room or any luxuries you always bring with you from home?
HK:
I’m not too fussy about that, but I do like electrical gadgets so I never travel anywhere without my mobile phone, my MP3 player and my laptop.

Q: What do you have for breakfast on a race Sunday?
HK:
I have cereal with orange juice - not with milk, which some people think is unusual. I also have brown toast and a couple of hard-boiled eggs.

Q: How much do you drink over a race weekend? And what?
HK:
It depends on the climate: my weight and hydration are closely monitored and I have to drink to make sure my performance is not compromised. Over a race weekend, I’ll usually drink a mixture of water, sports drinks and fruit juice. On a Sunday afternoon, I always hope it will be washed down by some sparkling champagne!

Q: How do you spend the morning on race Sunday?
HK:
Usually a relaxed breakfast at the Brand Centre for European races or at the hotel on flyaways, then some marketing appearances, a meeting with my engineers and the drivers’ parade. Any other time is usually spent relaxing or preparing for the race mentally and physically.

Q: How do you like to get to the circuit on Sunday morning? Do you drive yourself?
HK:
Yes, I like to drive into the circuit myself - although I hate the traffic sometimes!

Q: How do you like to spend the hour or so before the race?
HK:
Just relaxing, and trying to focus on the race. We’re usually pretty busy right up until the start of the race with appearances and the drivers’ parade, so you don’t get much time to yourself. I stay in my room and just get ready on my own.