Q&A with McLarens Heikki Kovalainen 14 Mar 2008
It was a good day for McLarens Heikki Kovalainen, as he made his debut for his new team in Melbourne on Friday. In both practice sessions, he clocked the fourth-fastest time, so its no surprise that it was a very relaxed looking Kovalainen who strolled between the McLaren pits and the British teams motorhome. We caught up with the Finn to find out a little more about his pre-season preparations and his hopes for 2008...
Q: When you look back to your debut in Melbourne 12 months ago, how do you think you have changed as a person and as a driver?
Heikki Kovalainen: Simply, since December the reflexes of the driver Kovalainen are much, much faster and the mind of the person Kovalainen is much stronger. I completed a very demanding physical program over the winter. When we did the physical tests, I got all the values of my body. These are the numbers - this is what you are. You might feel different, but this is your current status and this is where you have to improve. And it has improved a lot. Even if the car was not great last year, I think that I didnt do a great job either. In retrospective, I would say I didnt prepare myself well enough.
Q: Last year McLaren enjoyed the luxury of having two drivers that were able to win the championship. The title was eventually lost because neither Lewis nor Fernando (Alonso) wanted to play second fiddle. What will the situation be this year?
HK: Both drivers will be treated equally. There will not be such a thing as a second-fiddle ride. The strategies will be identical and I have no doubt in my mind that the team wouldnt push me back to give Lewis an advantage. This in fact was one of the most important points when I made the contract. I wanted to be treated equally. That was not the case at my previous team so I wanted to leave.
Q: Comparing the test times over the winter it looked pretty even between Lewis and yourself. You seem to have adjusted well to your new surroundings...
HK: I feel that Ive got into the team reasonably well. There are still some minor deficits like not knowing all the names of the team personal - but I would say this is a minor lapse and will not make any odds in the communication.
Q: Lewis said that you two get along very well but that in the end you are competitors. Do you believe there may be a little psychological warfare on the horizon?
HK: No innuendos whatsoever. We both understand the situation - we both work for the team. About the issues of last year, I am the wrong person to ask but I am positively sure that such a thing will not happen this season.
Q: Last year you came to Melbourne as a rookie - this year as a possible championship contender. Which one do you feel is the biggest pressure?
HK: I dont feel that I am a contender for the championship. I feel that I have many things still to learn. I have to race for poles and I have to win races, before I can start to think about the championship. I will take it step by step and I feel less pressure now. I am better prepared and I have no pressure from the team - no expectations. Sure I want to do well - I think I owe it to the team for their confidence in me.
Q: When you say that you dont have pressure from the team, it is a bit hard to believe as this is a high-performance environment
HK: True, F1 is an extremely demanding milieu - that affects everybody working here. What I mean by no pressure, is that I did not get told that if I dont win my first race I will be out of the team.
Q: Then would you say that you are in a nothing to lose situation?
HK: No. Because I am in a good team, I have a good car and I have the chance to enjoy good results. There are other drivers apart from me that I see as championship contenders, so I am in a good corner to concentrate on my own job. I dont get too much attention from people as there are many here in the paddock who have done better than myself. I feel its a very good situation to grow in.
Q: Renault is quite a down-to-earth outfit, while McLaren has always been a luxury team in the paddock. Have you got used to the up market environment?
HK: Yeah, it probably is an up market environment - but also the focus of the team is up market. The corporate people in Woking are very motivated - they want very much to do anything to win. Aside from that, the procedures of the teams are more or less the same: you test, you race, you do debriefs - normal, everyday race life. And yes, I enjoy driving my S-class!
Q: Your own benchmark for your first few races has been very reserved - no pole, no race win - just learning. Are you being a little too modest?
HK: No, not at all. Its just my philosophy to let the results do the talking!