McLaren confirms Kovalainen for 2008

McLaren confirmed on December 14th that Heikki Kovalainen will be teammate to Lewis Hamilton for 2008. The Finn was dropped by Renault when Fernando Alonso and Nelson A. Piquet were announced just this week as the race driver line up for next season, but was always one of the favourites to take the McLaren seat that Alonso vacated.

New Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Heikki Kovalainen.
Photo by McLaren.

"I am so excited to join a team like Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," said Kovalainen. "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 (Hakkinen)and Kimi's (Raikkonen) 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."

Kovalainen, who was a graduate of Renault's young driver programme and spent just one season in the team's F1 race seat, will have a tough task on his hands to be teammate to Hamilton, McLaren's favoured son who has already allegedly proclaimed that he will be the Woking squad's No.1 next year.

Kovalainen had a difficult early season on his rookie debut with Renault but found his form later on and finished nine points ahead of experienced teammate Giancarlo Fisichella at the end. He scored a podium finish with second at Fuji and was seventh overall in the drivers' standings.

"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 McLaren CEO 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."

Mercedes vice-president Norbert Haug added: "Heikki is a talented driver who showed his skills during his debut season in Formula One 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."

With this announcement the driver line ups for 2008 are nearly all finalized. Force India, previously Spyker, is reported to be making a decision before the end of the year which leaves only Super Aguri to be confirmed. However, there's always room for some peculiar anomaly to make a surprise appearance.