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Exclusive Kovalainen Q&A: 2009 could be my season to shine 09 Mar 2009

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Formula One Testing, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal. 22 January 2009 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Formula One Testing, 1-5 March 2009, Jerez, Spain.  
  
Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Formula One Testing, 1-5 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, Day Two, 10 February 2009.  
  
Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 9 March 2009.

McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen is cautiously optimistic for the 2009 season. The MP4-24 has shown strong potential, the data gleaned from testing has been instructive, and the team are confident they’ll start the season with KERS - something that could give Kovalainen a significant advantage over his rivals in early races. And after a winter spent boosting his fitness levels, the Finn is determined to give himself a fighting chance of taking the title…

Q: Heikki, your team mate Lewis Hamilton got his share of fame last season - will 2009 be your year?
Heikki Kovalainen:
It’s too early to say but, yes, I hope so. As a Formula One driver you have to go into every season believing you can be world champion, otherwise there’s no point being here. And I totally believe I go into the new season with every chance of fighting for the world championship. I’ve learned so much from last year, I think I’ve developed both as a person and as a driver and I know that if the car is good then I’ll have every chance of fighting for wins. And if that happens, I hope it will lead me towards fighting for the title.

Q: There is the impression that you didn’t deliver to your full potential in 2008. How are you going to change that this year?
HK:
I think I went into 2008 in a very strong frame of mind, and feeling very positive. But looking back now, maybe it took longer than I anticipated to learn about the team and how to use the people in the team to help me. I also put a little bit too much pressure on myself when things didn’t quite go my way, and I’ve learned not to worry too much about that now. I want to enjoy myself when I go racing. I definitely feel like I’ve really learned more about this team and how we can work together to get better results. It’s something that Lewis already knew very well and I can see how that helped him last year. Now I feel much better prepared than I did last year.

Q: You have had quite a bit of experience of the MP4-24 now. What are your impressions? Compared to last year’s car, will it prove as successful?
HK:
For me, it’s still too early to say how the car will behave when we are in Melbourne. Firstly, because we are still bringing new parts to the car and have not yet run the car you will see in Australia. Secondly, I seem to spend most of my time driving the new car in the wet so I can’t give you a really accurate clue about how it will behave in the warmth of Australia!

Q: Experienced race drivers are said to be able to feel the potential of a new car the moment they take it out of the pits. What would you say are the positives of the MP4-24 - and what do you see as its drawbacks?
HK:
Well, unfortunately my first opportunity to take the MP4-24 out of the pits took a long time to happen because of the wet weather in Portimao! And I had to wait a little while before I could first drive it, at Jerez in February. We have a good package but we don’t know how good it is compared to the others, and we won’t know until Melbourne, as test times are never a real indication. We are bringing new parts for the car all the time and are working hard in every area - KERS, tyres, aero, engine. There’s no single area that we are focusing on because every area is important.

Q: The weather during the winter test period has been far from ideal. Do you think that will have consequences in light of the in-season test ban? How is the situation at McLaren?
HK:
Naturally, every team would like to do more testing ahead of the new season. But we understand the reasons for cutting back on testing, and we support those moves. The bad weather is not what you wish for when you are a driver, but it has been the same for everybody. It has been raining a lot in Europe and there were the big sandstorms in Bahrain. It might actually make the racing more unpredictable and exciting, particularly during the early races, because the teams won’t have finished their pre-season programmes. That should be good for the fans, I think.

Q: KERS is still a dark horse. Do you like this new technology? Will you use it at the first race, and when will that decision be made?
HK:
We have always planned to run KERS throughout the season and we are working hard to have the system ready for Melbourne. In fact, the KERS programme has been going very well over the winter. We have put a lot of miles on the unit and have not had too many problems, so I hope we race it sooner rather than later. From a driver’s point of view, it’s more fun to have a boost switch in your cockpit and I hope it will make the races more exciting.

Q: The drivers have been working very hard over the winter; some were slimming down, others were busy building up their muscles. What did you do?
HK:
I’ve really enjoyed training over the winter. I went back to Finland and did a lot of cross-country skiing to build up my core fitness levels. Since then, I’ve been working with my trainer to get ready for the new season. I feel fitter and better prepared now than I did a year ago and I’m convinced that will have a really positive effect on the race results too.

Q: If you take a look into the crystal ball, what do you see happening at the first two races? And where do you see yourself?
HK:
Honestly, who knows? Everybody at McLaren Mercedes has been working so hard over the winter and we feel we have a strong package. But who knows how much everyone else has done over the winter? Not even a test like this, where the majority of the teams are running their ’09 cars, can give a real indication. That’s what makes Formula One so fascinating and unpredictable. And that’s also why I can’t wait to get to Melbourne to find out!