Heikki Kovalainen: A Failure Or Team's Fault?
The 2008 season was a interesting one, especially because Mclaren won the drivers championship but not the constructors, so it is a mixed situation for Ron, Martin and others.
The reason was clear when the second car struggled for grip and reliability. Lewis's car never failed with reliability, only some races the car lost grip. Heikki was clearly outpaced by Lewis Hamilton and he didn't get his car to work like Hamilton did.
But I choose to look at this situation technically, analysing how things worked at Mclaren after their disaster with Alonso.
Everybody in the paddock or with fans eyes expected Heikki to end the title race lower than team leader Hamilton, so nobody was disappointed after the season ended.
But in pre-season testing,we saw Heikki had the same speed as Hamilton so the situation looked like 2007. I think this gave Ron a warning to develop a strategy to decide how things would work in the team.
In Melbourne, Malaysia, and Bahrain, Heikki looked better, even sometimes faster, than Hamilton. Everything changed after the Spanish GP,and the accident he had there. Heikki's car had a puncture on a left rim and flew into the wall. Again Heikki had the heavier car so with a different set up than Lewis, and his car reacted negatively.
The Turkish GP was a good qualifying for Heikki, even with a heavier car he beat Lewis. I watched the practice live at the circuit and the fastest laps showed that there were not much difference between Finn and Brit.
The race was a different story, with a puncture from his compatriot Kimi. His race was off, but he passed people, especially Timo Glock in the start-finish straight of Istanbul Park, and that was spectacular. The race ended with 12th so his luck was not with him.
Race after race, especially Canada, England, and other circuits except France ended with tyres that were not working. I think the answer is ahead of us. We saw Lewis was generally faster than Heikki because his set up is more likely to the car and he had lower fuel than Heikki.
These showed the difference especially in Silverstone. Heikki's driving style didn't suit the car and his set up was not looking good in wet weather. This is an evidence to show Heikki's driving style was not good for Mclaren's bridgestones.
Even Peter Windsor mentioned that problem at F1 racing magazine. After Silverstone mis-matched tyres as in China or other type of failures made him fail to finish races or get lower grid positions.
His set up was never ideal for the car and I think Heikki believe he can adapt his driving style to the car, but the updates and new aerodynamic changes have had a negative effect on this effort and made Hamilton's hand better than ever.
So his driving style and set-ups were not ideal for the MP4-23, but Hamilton had the right style and set-up, and was sometimes faster than Massa or Kimi. With a ideal fuel load he got his pace and a wonderful car.This was the same story for Kubica and Massa too.
Heikki was not a bad driver in F1 or in junior series. F1 is generally shaped by set ups, driving styles and aerodynamics, so the main difference was made by these facts. If a driving style didn't suit a car and with heavy load, honestly nobody can expect a champion driving.
Ron also didn't generally comment about Heikki, he chose Hamilton even though Lewis failed at the opening races. Martin Withmarsh did that for Heikki, even good or bad he supported his driver.This reminds DC's comments to F1 racing "Sometimes Ron can't talk with you or he doesn't look at you on GP weekends," so I can understand why Montoya, Alonso, DC, or Kimi left Mclaren.
In conclusion, Heikki was out-paced by Lewis but the team didn't look nervous about Heikki's situation, even after Heidfeld and Kimi overcame from their problems. Heikki didn't overcome his and Mclaren liked Hamilton leading, so they didn't want to win the constructors because they thought the situation would be like last year. I hope to see Heikki to get a lower fuel and ideal set up for the car so we will have a chance to judge him.
If somebody struggles like what we saw at Kimi. The truth is in a ideal car Massa is not a rival for Kimi but picture can change in an struggling car. So we didn't see the real Heikki yet. He raced well after bad races on his debut year, but this year was something interesting for him, so technical failurea were worse than his luck so this end doesn't surprise any of us.
If a driver can't use his or her full potential on the car that is what we saw on top three teams trio.
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