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Q&A with McLaren's Hamilton and Kovalainen 16 Jan 2009

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Launch, McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, England, 16 January 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Launch, McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, England, 16 January 2009 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Launch, McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, England, 16 January 2009

Speaking at the launch of McLaren’s new challenger, the MP4-24, at the team's Woking factory on Friday, drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen were in high spirits ahead of the 2009 season. While Kovalainen gleaned a debut victory from 2008, Hamilton celebrated world championship-winning success, and it's clear both are hoping to emulate their ’08 achievements this year…

Q: Lewis, has winning the world championship changed you?
Lewis Hamilton:
The whole experience has definitely made me feel more rounded. The whole experience of 2008 has helped me to grow as an individual - and not just at the races; how I've dealt with my surroundings, my family and my life. I know I have a huge responsibility and I have to set a good example - and it takes maturity to manage those things and so I'm still learning and doing the best I can.

Q: How have you spent the winter?
LH:
The winter months have been all about recharging my batteries. Last season was very tough both mentally and physically and the test and race schedule never gives you enough time to get back to peak fitness. Over the winter, I've taken a break from the car and really focused on my preparations for 2009 and getting myself back to the peak of physical fitness. In both respects, I feel really well prepared ahead of the winter test programme and the year ahead.

Q: What do you think of the new car?
LH:
Well, obviously, I haven't driven it yet. But there's an old saying in motor racing that says a beautiful car often turns out to be a quick car. And all I can say is that I hope that's right, because I reckon the MP4-24 looks simply sensational. Really beautiful, in fact.

Q: What aspects of the 2009 season are you particularly looking forward to?
LH:
The huge rule changes are really exciting for a driver. The winter months are already quite busy because you're very heavily involved in developing the new car, but this year it will be even more intense.And the whole experience will also feel quite fresh because so much is new. I hope the racing is as close and as exciting as has been predicted because that's always more fun for a driver and fantastic for Formula One's fans.

Q: Heikki, with a season at McLaren already under your belt, do you feel better prepared than you did a year ago?
Heikki Kovalainen:
For sure. It's easy to forget, but I only joined Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in December 2007 so my preparations for the '08 season happened very quickly. Of course, I felt comfortable straight away but it still takes time to understand exactly how each member of the team is able to help you. For this year, I feel much more integrated into the whole operation and know we can really hit the ground running when we start testing next week.

Q: When did you start your preparations for 2009?
HK:
After Brazil, I took a short break but was soon back at the McLaren Technology Centre preparing with my engineers for the new season. I tested a hybrid car in Jerez before Christmas and that was very helpful actually - although it wasn't a precise replica of the MP4-24, it gave you a good idea of what to expect with the new aero levels, KERS device and slick tyres. I think the new breed of cars will suit me very well. I've also been training in the snow of northern Finland - it's the best place in the world for me to relax and prepare for the year ahead.

Q: What are your targets for the season ahead?
HK:
I feel much better prepared ahead of the new season. I think you can extract a lot of performance simply from good mental preparation, and I really want to look at the positives ahead of me this year rather than becoming too focused on any difficulties. Racing alongside Lewis is the ultimate benchmark and I'd like to think we'll both be challenging for the drivers' championship and helping the team to win the constructors' championship.