Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is pleased to confirm that Finn Heikki Kovalainen will team up with Formula 1 World Championship runner-up Lewis Hamilton for the 2008 season. Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa will remain the third driver and an integral part of the team, whilst Gary Paffett will assist Pedro with the testing programme when required.
"We had a number of options open to us and as always we want to make sure that we have the most competitive driver line-up and I think that Lewis and Heikki will be a formidable combination," said Martin Whitmarsh.
"Both enjoyed great rookie seasons in 2007 and share a genuine passion for winning and being the best. Heikki made a strong impression and Lewis' performance so far has been outstanding and speaks for itself. I am confident that they will push each other on track and work well together off track. In addition with Pedro remaining our primary test driver alongside Gary, we really have a strong package and look forward to 2008."
Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport commented "Heikki is a talented driver who showed his skills during his debut season in Formula 1 this year. Heikki's most impressive performance was at the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji where he finished second behind Lewis in extremely treacherous wet conditions."
"He is not only a quick driver but also one of the most consistent having finished in every Grand Prix except the last which puts him in the top five together with our drivers who covered most laps in 2007. Everybody in the team is looking forward to a very fruitful co-operation. Lewis and Heikki will form one of the youngest driver line-ups, and I am convinced that both will be very strong and at the same time co-operative competitors."
26-year-old Heikki, who made his Formula 1 race debut last year with Renault, joins the team on a long-term contract and will commence his on-track programme in early January.
"I am so excited to join a team like Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," said Heikki. "So far I have been blown away by the dedication and commitment to winning which is clear through the entire organisation and I am really excited about our joint future. As a Finn it's an honour for me to follow in Mika and Kimi's footsteps. I haven't really spent a lot of time with Lewis so far but from what I know I think we will work well together and do our best for the team."
Lewis who enjoyed the most successful rookie season in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship with consecutive podiums in his first nine races is looking forward to the 2008 season.
"As soon as the chequered flag went in Brazil I began to count down the days until Australia," said Lewis. "I am really looking forward to 2008 and working with Heikki as my team mate. Together with the team we will do everything we can to ensure that our Championship challenge is as strong and focused as possible. My first year in Formula 1 was incredible and I was so fortunate to spend it with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and I hope that Heikki will enjoy his first year with the team as much as I did mine."
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 is scheduled to commence its on-track testing programme at an exclusive test at the Jerez circuit in Spain during the second week of January 2008. There are currently no plans for a launch presentation but the team will provide the media with photographs and further details about the car when it runs.