F1

Kovalainen enjoying his life with McLaren

Kovalainen enjoying his life with McLaren

How does a country with a population of just over five million produce so many good racing drivers? Heikki Kovalainen. Photo by xpb.cc. In Finland, a quarter of the land lies above the Arctic Circle so it's understandable that there...

How does a country with a population of just over five million produce so many good racing drivers?

Heikki Kovalainen.
Photo by xpb.cc.
In Finland, a quarter of the land lies above the Arctic Circle so it's understandable that there would be a few world-class rally drivers, but there have been quite a lot, including no less than six WRC World Champions: Marcus Gronholm, Juha Kankkunen, Hannu Mikkola, Tommi Makinen, Timo Salonen and Ari Vatanen.

The real surprise is the number of Formula One drivers. There have been three F1 World Champions from Finland: Keke Rosberg (Williams, 1982), Mika Hakkinen (McLaren, 1998 and 1999) and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari, 2007).

Not only that but for the 2008 season there are three Finnish drivers racing in the premier open-wheel international series, Kimi Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) and Nico Rosberg (Williams). However one needs to note that Rosberg is currently driving under his mother's German nationality but his famous father is a Finn!

To put that into perspective that's like Miami in the USA , Saint Petersburg in Russia or Toronto/Hamilton in Canada producing three F1 drivers for the 2008 season.

Kovalainen was announced as the new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver to race along side teammate Lewis Hamilton on the 14th of December 2007. Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport commented at the time that "Heikki is a talented driver who showed his skills during his debut season in Formula 1 this year."

Haug was impressed by Kovalainen result in Fuji, where "he finished second behind Lewis in extremely treacherous wet conditions" Haug added.

Kovalainen's career began in karting, much like many other F1 drivers. His karting career spanned from 1991 to 2000.

In 2001 Kovalainen moved up to the British Formula Renault championship and attracted the support of the Renault Driver Development programme, which resulted in his move to the British Formula 3 series in 2002. He raced for Fortec Motorsport using Renault engines.

He then moved into the Renault-owned World Series by Nissan in 2003. The Finn stayed in the newly named World Series by Renault for 2004 and won the championship taking six wins.

The Race of Champions 2004 winner Heikki Kovalainen.
Photo by IMP.
Kovalainen really came to the attention of the world when he competed in the 2004 Race of Champions at the Stade de France in Paris. He became the first non-rally driver to win the Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy and earn the title "Champion of Champions". Even more remarkable was the fact that he triumphed over Sebastian Loeb in a World Rally Championship car, having never as much as sat in one before.

He also pulled off the surprise of the day by beating Ferrari F1 champion Michael Schumacher when they were both driving Ferrari 360 Modenas.

"Beating Michael Schumacher at the Race of Champions in 2004 ... even though it didn't make a difference to my career, it was just an amazing moment," Kovalainen commented at the McLaren MP4-23 launch yesterday at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. "It was a surprise victory as no one really knew who I was and no one normally beats Michael."

In 2005, the Finn took on another Finnish racer in the GP2 Series. The title contest was between himself and Rosberg. He ended up second in the drivers' championship. The following year, his new teammate Hamilton took the crown.

He joined Renault F1 team in 2006 as their test driver and completed his first season last year for the team where he had a good first year in F1 scoring 30 points and coming 7th in the drivers' championship.

Clearly enjoying his job when asked about the best thing about being a Formula One driver he said, "To drive a Formula 1 car, absolutely. That is a very easy question to answer, it is simply just the sensation of driving the car."

Kovalainen starts this season in the number 23 MP4-23 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes after Ron Dennis, CEO of the McLaren Group, made a swap with the Renault F1 team, giving them Fernando Alonso.

Podium: champagne for Heikki Kovalainen.
Photo by GP2 Series Media Service.
"Of course, I am joining a very ambitious team and I have to be aiming for a competitive season and to be able to fight for a good position in the championship. For me personally it is to get to know the team and how the team works and get ready for my first race," he said. "The most important thing is for when we arrive in Melbourne in two months time."

He certainly is under no illusions about how tough it is in F1: "If you are not working 100% all the time and if you don't put the maximum effort in with the team then somebody will get ahead of you."

Kovalainen has done well in his first year racing in F1, he was eclipsed by the performance of Hamilton last year, but now he is in the same car, and that car is a McLaren Mercedes; this will be interesting.

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