Yesterday Clive tipped Williams to do well in 2008 – now Ollie from BlogF1 explains why Heikki Kovalainen might upset Lewis Hamilton this year.
Not many racing drivers can say they conquered their team mate in their maiden season of Formula One competition. Even fewer can say they beat Giancarlo Fisichella in equal equipment, the Italian known for dominating his partners up until Fernando Alonso. But one man can say all this. One man can say he scored nine more world championship points than Fisichella, despite the 177 race deficit and rookie status. That man is Heikki Kovalainen, and I reckon he’s going to impress a fair few sceptics in 2008.
Perhaps winning the title is too bold of a statement, but to score more points than his team mate is perfectly possible in my mind, and something that will become a major talking point of the 2008 season. If we rewind time to early 2007, prior to last season commencing, I remember many articles discussing the new rookies; Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil and of course, Kovalainen. The majority of articles centered around Hamilton and Kovalainen, both driving for top teams, one being the reigning world champions team mate at McLaren, the other filling his vacated seat at Renault.
At the time it was Heikki who was generally thought of as the better of the two. Although Lewis was going to do well in the recharged McLaren, Heikki had experience from testing, knew his Renault team well and taken part in grand prix weekends as the Friday tester. Surely it was he who would have the upper hand.
Of course, Formula One doesn’t like predictability and the R27 that Kovalainen was entrusted with just wasn’t up to par with the McLaren or Ferrari. A difficult start to his season led to fierce criticism from his boss and it seemed as though Heikki would be out of F1 in almost record time. Not one to give up though, Kovalainen soon turned his fortunes around and by the time the final chequered flag was waved for the year, Heikki was nine points clear of Fisichella, some might say the very nine points that spelled the end of Giancarlo’s career at Renault.
Those nine points wasn’t enough to convince Flavio Briatore though, and along with Fisichella, Heikki received the boot from Renault. The resulting move however could prove to be at Kovalainen’s great advantage as he joins McLaren, a team desperate to steal the title away from Ferrari.
Will Heikki be the man able to do this though, given the admiration the team have for his partner, Lewis Hamilton? Well, when Heikki was announced as a Woking driver he was very careful to point out that he was given equal status to Hamilton. In fact so careful were he and the team at pointing this out it was all we heard about for a week. And assuming this is true and both drivers get equal opportunities to begin with, I would expect Heikki to correct his error of 2007 and start very strongly.
We’ve seen in lower formulae that Kovalainen has talent, this is clear, but unfortunately it isn’t enough; Hamilton also has this quality by the bucket load. However, what Heikki has over Lewis is maturity, a calm head on young shoulders. We saw last season how Lewis could easily get rattled when confronted with a difficult situation. In Monaco he said the wrong words, in Brazil he allowed the pressure to get on top of him. Although the pressures at Renault were very different, Heikki was never seen to be emotional. His tantrums, if they happened, were behind closed doors. His outbursts of frustration at the car and team were kept to himself. Not once can I remember Heikki coming across as arrogant, shy, emotional, unconfident. I’m not sure he’s really human to be honest.
This trait will work to Heikki’s advantage, just as it did to Senna’s and Schumacher’s. His speed will impress and combined with his knowledge of setting the car up and squeezing the maximum out of it will enable Heikki to do great things in 2008. To suggest he’ll be able to beat a buoyant Kimi Raikkonen is pushing the envelope, but to score more than his team mate? Perfectly possible, you just wait and see.
More about Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton