Soapbox: The big story of 2008 (pt 2)

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Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes, 2008 pre-season, 450150

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

13 comments on “Soapbox: The big story of 2008 (pt 2)”

  1. Alonso beat FisiHeikki beat FisibutLewis beat AlonsoI think Heikki is going to have his work cut out.

  2. In line with my own prediction :-) Heikki will beat Lewis this year.  Few people expect him to do so and that may be his advantage. Similar to the situation Hamilton was in last year.

  3. Ron’s not so muted favoritism towards Lewis will be the difference this year.

    Ron is bright enough to avoid the 2007 driver cat fight scenario and he will give Lewis every advantage he can to win the title this year. Whether he will publicly admit it or not, Lewis is the defacto number 1 at McLaren. Justifiably so.

  4. Wasn’t Heikki the guy who beat Michael Schumacher in the Race of Champions and eventually winning the event in 2004?

    I don’t think Lewis would be able to dominate unless the team doesn’t allow equal sharing of information, which I doubt would be the case. 

  5. "some might say the very nine points that spelled the end of Giancarlo’s career at Renault."I think Flavio already had his mind made up about his 2008 lineup after (roughly) Melbourne ’07, and he was basically looking for an excuse to fire Fisichella. This, combined with whatever demands Alonso made on his return, and I don’t think either driver would have increased job security if only they’d done better!

  6. Sure, he bested Fisi on points, but we are talking about Lewis Hamilton here. I think Heiki will continue to impress, but Hamilton will continue to improve.

  7. Flavio Briatore started trying to get Alonso back before Melbourne, so one of the 2007 Renault pairing wasn’t going to be there for 2008 because when Flavio decides he wants a driver, he generally gets that driver. However, on this occasion, Alonso wanted a salary that was larger than Renault would clear, so additional sponsors were needed. When the sponsors came, they turned out to be Carlos Slim’s consortium, and he demanded a Latin American driver alongside Alonso as a condition of sponsorship. As a result, Fisi and Kovalainen could have been 1-2 in the championship (either way round) and still Flavio’s regard for Fernando would have prevented either of them keeping their seat.

    Still, Kovalainen did a very good job in the second half of 2007, once the car was driveable. As long as McLaren provide a driveable car (and it looks like they will), Kovalainen will be able to do well. I don’t know if it will be enough to beat Hamilton, but it’ll be a good, honourable fight between the two of them.

  8. I seem to have been watch Lewis and Heikki for about ten years now and I have always been impressed by both of them.  I think McLaren could have put together a very strong pairing and if they can push each other on then McLaren could reap the benefit.

    I always expected that Heikki would make an impact on F1 first, but the total clear out of McLaren drivers in 2006 changed that.  I expect the two of them to be very close but since neither of them has the hair-trigger response of Alonso to being beaten by a team mate they may be able to work together.

    I have been looking back at a lot of the pre-season predictions from last season on a number of sites over the past couple of days and the one thing it shows that predicting anything in F1 is difficult.  There were a lot of people predicting that Alonso would destroy Hamilton and Ron was stupid to put Lewis straight into F1.  There were also a lot of people saying that de la Rosa was a far stronger driver than Hamilton.

    I think they will be very evenly matched but I expect Lewis to come out on top if only because he had a lot more input into the design of the new car and it should suit his driving style better.

  9. It’s funny the way you judge Alonso as the typical destroyer when beaten by a team mate, but use a different rule when judging Hamilton. I can remember Monaco, Hungaroring, or Spa, where Hamilton was beaten and started a battle against the team and his team mate.

    The only person who has input into the design of the car is de la Rosa. Sure he isn’t the fastest in the pack, but I can’t imagine McLaren Design Department without him in the line up.

  10. What I want to know is why people always bang on about the equality status at McLaren (which I believe to be true and was one of the things I was most annoyed about with Alonso last year questioning it) when no-one seems to care that other teams are obviously not equal, i.e. Ferrari and Renault.  Kimi is evidently top man at Ferrari and Alonso is the teacher’s pet at Renault, but that seems okay with everyone.  But mention that Lewis may be a favourite at McLaren (I’m sure both Lewis and Heikki are well regarded and will be given absolute equal opportunities in 2008) and there is general hullabaloo.  I find it strange!

  11. As much as I like Heikki, the whole Heikki beat Fisi, so Heikki can beat Lewis, argument is very very weak. It’s the same as saying, Fernando beat Fisi like a drum. Fernando and Lewis were equal. So, Lewis should beat Fisi like a drum. Since Heikki did not beat Fisi like a drum, then Lewis should beat Heikki.See, it’s nonsense, until we see the drivers racing in their cars. Cars and teams suit specific drivers’ styles. Clearly, the McLaren team did not suit Fernando, while Renault did. Some cars suit a drivers’ driving style better.I like Heikki, but coming to some conclusion before the season is just nonsense.

  12. It might take HK the first two or three races to settle in, but after that LH will be so far behind his teammate McLaren will need to fit an HDF (Heikki direction finder) to tell Lewis which way the Finn went. And once that starts happening you’ll see LH making far more mistakes than last year. It doesn’t really matter though as both McLarens will need a KDF.

  13. Flavio said Heikki was the future of Renault.  Flavio is known for being consistently inconsistent.

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