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How Good Is Heikki?

How Good Is Heikki?

It’s one of those questions that occasionally refuses to be answered. It is subjective and unquantifiable. But in comparison to his team mate last season, one could presume Heikki Kovalainen is actually quite fast. Fast enough to beat Lewis Hamilton? Why not, after all, I don’t believe we’ve really seen the best of Kovalainen yet. To follow in the steps of Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen will be hard, being partnered to Hamilton will be harder still. But driving a McLaren competitively at the very sharp end of the grid? I guess the young Finn will either sink, or swim.

In 2007, Heikki debuted in the less-than-great Renault R27. The reasons why the car wasn’t great are probably varied and I can even imagine the team don’t fully understand them. But surely the loss of Fernando Alonso would have contributed to a small part of it. But in loosing Alonso we gained Kovalainen, and despite a shaky start the Finn clawed his way back to finish higher in the tables than Giancarlo Fisichella. This alone was probably what caused the Anglo-French team to drop the Italian – being beaten by your younger and inexperienced team mate is possibly the worst thing for a driver to endure. Looking at Alonso’s body-language over the course of the season proves this point to some degree.

So Heikki saw off his team mate in 2007. An experienced driver who has won races, claimed poles when he arguably shouldn’t have done and developed cars to their maximum. Perhaps in his twilight, Fisichella might be, but you cannot re-write the history book. The book that talks of demoralising Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Alex Wurz…

What can we expect from Kovalainen in 2008 then? If he can conquer Fisichella, can he conquer Hamilton? Heikki insisted that driver equality was the key factor in his decision to move from the Renault stable. How much of that is true we will never know, as from the outside it does look as though the Finn was sent on his way, albeit with Ron’s telephone number in his pocket. But if Heikki does get the equality he strives for, and if McLaren can produce a legal and fast MP4-23, could Heikki really give Lewis a run for his money?

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are a few question marks over Kovalainen, not least his ability to perform under intense pressure. I’m guessing this attribute wasn’t really tested too much last season, but Hamilton’s skin certainly grew thicker as 2007 progressed, and on this level the golden-boy of Woking may have the advantage. But if it came down to out-and-out speed? Raw and unadulterated ability? Well, I’m going to reserve my prediction until after the Australian Grand Prix.

Oliver White

5 comments

  • Coming into F1 must be incredibly stressful – it’s what you have worked really hard for, the realisation of your dreams.

    If you get off to a good start then it will set your mind at ease a little, allow you to relax and settle in – but get off to a bad start and it heaps all the more pressure on.

    Lewis was lucky enough to get the good start, and Heikki unfortunate to get the bad one – the way he came back from that to finish the season strongly is more impressive to me than how Lewis’s season went.

    To have his boss Flavio giving him a hard time in the press must have only added to the weight on his shoulders, and yet he managed to turn it all around – good on him for doing that in my view. Okay noone really expected him to win in the Renault as it was a dog of a car, but to avoid being placed on the F1 scrapheap he really needed to put in some good performances and he did that – and more consistently than his experienced teammate.

    Hopefully, McLaren will indeed offer him a fair shot at winning races by not only having another fast car next season but also by operating the equal driver opportunities they have championed in the past.

  • @Craig: I hope McLaren offer equal status among their drivers as well; it could lead to some fantastic racing between the two of them.

    @Mary-Ann: So you believe Heikki to be faster than Rosberg! Interesting. I’m guessing you’ve seen these guys in karts and perhaps in reasonably equal machinery. I’m still going to wait before falling on one side of the fence, but suffice to say the boy deserves to be in Formula One in a top car. Whether or not he deserves the title, I’m going to wait and see.

  • I think ol’ Heikki is pretty darn good… if you discount his bad first couple of races.

    The Renault was a pig of a car at the first of the season and he compleatly got the better of Fisichella once he got things sorted out.

    I would love to see him best Hamilton next year. Lewis thinks he is so special, but Haikki may give him a run for his money.

  • I personally think Heikki his a very special driver. But the problem is i believe Lewis is even more special than him! Where Heikki is intelligent and fast, Lewis is only brutally fast outright. I think Heikki if given time will grow even better than Rosberg or Alonso. Alonso had the gestation time to mature and who was he paired against at first? Tarso Marques!! Even in 2002 Alonso looked ordinary with occasional flashes of speed and a frightening accident in Brazil. Again after a superb win in 2003 Hungary, he looked very ordinary at the beginning of 2004 and Trulli had the measure of him early on. All along it was Flavio who believed that he had a future WDC in Alonso, and allowed him to mature. Same thing for Rosberg. SFW was patient with him last year and even if he was only half as good as he was this year, SFW would have renewed his contract albeit at a lesser pay!! I am suspecting that Heikki doesn’t have that liberty anymore as he is not with Renault and he is going head to head with a hotshot already thought to be better than him by many. He being thrown in the deep end really this early in his career, i fear is going to make a journeyman out of him. Its all about timing in F1 and it can be cruel sometimes….

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