Kovalainen: I wasn’t mentally sharp enough
Heikki Kovalainen had his chance with one of the biggest teams in Formula 1 – McLaren – but failed to make the grade at the pinnacle of the sport and admits that being teamed up against Lewis Hamilton at Woking, in 2008 and 2009, did not help his cause.
In a report on the official McLaren website, Kovalainen revealed, “As a team [McLaren] were able to help me and guide me,” Kovalainen said. “I became a better driver, but I think I lost a bit of confidence during the second half of 2009. I had a great opportunity, and I felt it started very well. But quite often in motor sport and in life small things can change your direction and change the outcome.”
In 2008 Hamilton powered to the world title, scoring five grand prix victories in his run to the championship. Kovalainen only managed a solitary win (the only one of his F1 career) and finished the season 45 points adrift of his teammate.
In 2009 McLaren struggled with the MP4-24, with Hamilton only managing five podiums including two wins with 49 points scored. Kovalainen failed to make it onto the podium and ended the year with 22 points.
The Finn said, “I just wasn’t able to extract from the car as much as Lewis was. It was an important time, and I obviously needed some results at that point.
“I wasn’t mentally sharp enough to really try to get more out of it. Also Lewis got some [new car] parts ahead of me, and maybe I let it affect me a little bit when he got slightly better service, if you like.”
“I felt I was the number two, but I should have ignored that and just got on with the job. I wasn’t driving as well as I was before,” he admitted.
Pressure mounted on Kovalainen early in 2009, his seat at the Woking outfit coveted by some of the top guns of the sport at the time.
Kovalainen recalled, “Martin Whitmarsh kept me up to date. He told me early on that they will look for another driver, they will look for Kimi [Raikkonen], and they were also looking for Jenson Button. But both of those drivers might not be available, and Martin said to me if not, then you’ll be the third choice.”
“I was in America and it was Thanksgiving Day when Martin called me to say: We have signed Jenson. My results weren’t good enough, and I was kind of expecting it. But I have good memories of McLaren, and it was the best team I ever worked with, a really great team and a powerful team.”
“Sometimes nowadays when I see them struggling I feel sorry for them, and I hope they can come back to where they should be,” added Kovalainen.