|Born||19 October 1981|
|Formula One World Championship Statistics|
|Team||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes|
For the 2008 Formula One season Kovalainen switched to the McLaren team where he was largely overshadowed by team mate Lewis Hamilton. Nevertheless, he took his first fastest lap, his first pole position and his first Grand Prix win, en route to seventh in the championship on 53 points.
After his first official testing session occurred on 9 January 2008 at Jerez, Kovalainen made his McLaren race début at the Australian Grand Prix, where he was quickest in the first qualifying session and started third on the grid behind Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica. He overtook Fernando Alonso on the final lap, but then accidentally hit the pit lane limiter granting fourth place to Alonso, himself finishing fifth, but Kovalainen did set the fastest lap of the race.
In Malaysia he was penalised five places for blocking Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber in the latter stages of qualifying, dropping to eighth. Kovalainen finished the race third as Hamilton faced problems in the pits, and Ferrari's Felipe Massa retired due to a spin. In Bahrain he flatspotted a tyre on the first lap and was consequently well off the pace of the Ferraris and the BMW Saubers. Towards the end he improved and recorded the fastest lap of the race again, coming home fifth.
At the Spanish Grand Prix, Kovalainen had just taken the lead, when his front-left tyre suddenly deflated and his car crashed into the tyre wall on lap 22. Kovalainen's car was almost completely buried under the tyres. The Safety Car was deployed for six laps as the debris was removed, and he was finally removed from the car and placed on a stretcher, at which point he gave a "thumbs-up". He was then taken by helicopter to a Barcelona area hospital for further tests. His final condition was a minor concussion, whilst also complaining of a sore elbow and neck. Kovalainen apparently did not lose consciousness at any point, according to the people who assisted him at the scene, but he himself had no memory of the accident nor of giving the "thumbs-up". The first thing he remembered was waking up at the hospital and the team doctor telling him what had happened. Kovalainen was released from the hospital two days later and he was able to race in Turkey. The cause of the accident was later determined to have been a production error on the wheel rim.
In the Turkish Grand Prix, evidence of the different driving styles used by the two McLaren drivers became apparent. Hamilton's more aggressive driving style meant that he had to adopt a three-stop strategy for the race due to concerns over his tyres' durability at Istanbul Park, while Kovalainen was able to use a two-stop strategy. Kovalainen qualified in second place, but suffered a puncture during a fight with Kimi Räikkönen in the first corner and dropped back to finish the race in 12th place.
More disappointment was to follow in Monaco when a software glitch stalled his car on the grid. He was able to start from the pitlane after the mechanics changed his steering wheel, and he made his way up to score a point for eighth place.
In Montreal, Kovalainen experienced difficulties with his tyres, as they seemed to degrade much more rapidly than Hamilton's, and the team was forced to tell him to take it easy in order to avoid a puncture. He finished ninth, and later described his race as a total catastrophe, suspecting the tyre issues had something to do with his driving style. At the French Grand Prix Kovalainen started tenth on the grid, after being docked five places for blocking Mark Webber in qualifying, and finished the race in fourth.
At Silverstone, Kovalainen achieved his first pole position, and led the race for the first four laps, before Hamilton passed him at Stowe. Despite two spins due to losing grip on the wet circuit, Kovalainen finished fifth. After the race Kovalainen reported similar tyre problems that he suffered in Canada; after a few laps the rear tyres were completely degraded and had lost their grip.
At the German Grand Prix Kovalainen finished fifth. In the week leading up to the Hungarian Grand Prix, McLaren confirmed that Kovalainen would remain with the team for 2009. He won his first race at Hungary and became the 100th driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix after race leader Felipe Massa retired due to an engine failure with three laps remaining. After the race Kovalainen commented: "In previous races my driving was too hard on the tyres. For this race we made somewhat radical changes to the set-up, and they were definitely a step in the right direction." He finished the following race in Valencia in fourth position, which moved him into the top five in the championship.
In September Kovalainen elaborated on the tyre issues for Autosport. The problem seemed to be indeed caused by his different driving style compared to Hamilton, particularly the way he enters corners, uses brakes differently and then accelerates. Hamilton turns the car in a shorter time whereas Kovalainen is trying to make the corners more round, inadvertently causing more wear on the tyres. They had made progress by adapting the car and working on his driving style.
In Belgium he qualified third, but lost eight places at the start. On lap ten he collided with Mark Webber and was given a drive-through penalty, which dropped him to fifteenth place. He worked his way back up to seventh, but on the final lap had to retire due to a gearbox failure, which left him outside the points. At the Italian Grand Prix he qualified second behind Sebastian Vettel in the tricky wet conditions. In the race Kovalainen developed brake temperature problems, however, and could not match Vettel's pace, finishing in second place, but was disappointed at the lost chance for a win.
In Singapore, Kovalainen qualified fifth, and tried to overtake Kubica for fourth place at the start of the race, but they made contact at Turn 3, causing Kovalainen to lose two places to Glock and Vettel. During a Safety Car period, both McLarens pitted at the same time and Kovalainen had to queue up behind Hamilton, dropping him down the order to 14th. He ultimately finished tenth.
Prior to the Japanese Grand Prix Kovalainen discussed his driving style and the tyre problems in an interview with the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, feeling they had now solved the issues. He explained his driving style was now very close to Hamilton's, as well as his car set-up. Hamilton's aggressive driving style seemed to work the best with the McLaren MP4-23, allowing the tyres to last longer. Hamilton hits the brakes harder and turns the car more quickly into the corner, while Kovalainen's softer driving style would be to drive with a longer curve into the corner, going easier on the brakes and accelerating halfway through the corner. Since the McLaren was harder on the tyres than the Renault and the Bridgestones were not quite as robust as the Michelins, that driving style now led to excessive tyre degradation. In Japan Kovalainen qualified third behind Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen. During the initial tussle between Hamilton and Räikkönen, Kovalainen was pushed off the track along with several other cars. Kovalainen was running in third when on lap 17 his car suffered an engine failure.
At the Chinese Grand Prix on his 27th birthday, he qualified in fifth position despite leading the timesheets in the initial part of third qualifying. In the race, Kovalainen's first set of front tyres had been marked incorrectly, so the left tyre was installed on the right-hand side of the car and vice versa, meaning the tyres were spinning in the wrong direction, causing understeer. He reported the understeer on the radio, and during his first pit stop the mechanics tried to improve the situation by raising the front-wing angle. Now that he also had correctly marked tyres, however, meant that the front-wing was now causing oversteer and making the front of the car heavier. This possibly caused the puncture to his front right tyre on lap 35, forcing him to pit and drop down to 17th, before he finally retired on lap 49 due to a hydraulics problem.
Going into the Brazilian Grand Prix, Kovalainen qualified fifth on the grid, leading many to believe that the McLarens were fuelled heavier than the other frontrunners, having set the pace earlier in the weekend. Kovalainen eventually finished seventh.
Complete Season resultsEdit
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)
|2008||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes||McLaren MP4-23||Mercedes FO 108V 2.4 V8|| AUS|