One of the enigmas of 2008 was the performance of Heikki Kovalainen. Hired by McLaren as a diplomatic team mate for Lewis Hamilton, he fitted in quickly and struck up an excellent rapport with the team, especially the boss Martin Whitmarsh. His contribution and team ethic surprised many people at McLaren and made them ask for more from Lewis. Heikki thinks of things many other drivers don’t think about, not for selfish reasons, like a Schumacher or a Senna, but trying to be helpful to the team. They love him.
But in being unselfish he didn’t get the balance right in his own performance this season. He’s definitely quick and when you adjust for the fuel loads in qualifying, was often as fast as Lewis, but by carrying a bit more fuel than his team mate, he then found himself behind BMWs and the off Renault on the grid and then couldn’t exploit the pace of the McLaren in the opening stint. So he often fell behind.
However he still have fast enough car to deal with that problem and the fact that more often than not he failed to deal with it, indicates a lack of killer instinct, which ties in with this unselfish team player mentality. Even when running in clear air his race pace could be strangely weak, so that is the key area he will be working on for next season. Renault engineers say he’s definitely got it, but he’s struggled to deliver it consistently.
He did his job this year, he backed up Lewis, didn’t make waves and got himself a win. I expect him to have a much stronger year next year and be consistently on the podium, but that streak of unselfishness is always going to count against him when up against the warriors at the front, like Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso and Kubica.