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GP Week : Issue 22
‘Repaired’ Kovalainen becomes “Just the start” for Heikki, says Dennis Heikki Kovalainen’s Hungarian Grand Prix win has made him the 100th race winner in the history of Formula 1. The McLaren driver inherited his debut win following Felipe Massa’s blown engine with just three laps of Sunday’s race to go, and saved McLaren’s weekend after pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton had suffered a puncture. McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis told journalists in Hungary that Kovalainen’s win was, in his opinion, just the start. “He can be better. I pointed out to him that I think it took Mika Hakkinen 75 races to win his first and I think this is Heikki’s 28th race, so he’s got plenty of time to polish his skills. So far so good.” Kovalainen has failed to match team-mate Hamilton in race pace thus far in 2008, a fact which was obvious once more at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and there have been questions raised as to the effectiveness of Kovalainen’s tyre usage and whether this could be holding him back in race trim. “I think that it’s important that after any race the driver has an understanding of where he could have been stronger, and at the moment we’re both still on a learning curve,”Dennis confirmed. “It’s only his second year in Formula 1 and I think his first year was quite demotivating at times. Hopefully some of the damage that he suffered last year both mentally and physically, we’re well on the road to repairing that and he’s getting better and better in physical condition and his mindset.” The McLaren CEO was also unconcerned about Felipe Massa’s apparent domination of the race, nor of Lewis Hamilton’s tyre problems. McLaren had been the class of the weekend until the lights went out at race start on Sunday afternoon, whereupon a demon start from Ferrari’s Massa left pole-sitter Hamilton in second and unable to keep the race-spec Ferrari on terms. There had been fears expressed over the course of the weekend that McLaren’s tyre wear was far harsher than Ferrari’s, something which had helped the team get heat into its tyres in the cool conditions in Germany two weeks ago. The fear was that the heat of Hungary would see the team suffer from a higher wear rate than Ferrari, and when Lewis Hamilton encountered a left-front tyre deflation on lap 41 of the Hungarian Grand Prix, many feared that it had come as a result of McLaren, and in particular Hamilton’s higher tyre wear rate. Dennis however confirmed that Hamilton had suffered a suspected puncture. “For a bad weekend, it’s great. To start with we won the race. A lot of people will remember the engine failure of Massa, but they will forget perhaps the puncture of Lewis. “At the end of the day you have problems in races and that determines the outcome and this is one of those outcomes that has affected the race leadership. “We think we had a good weekend – we had a very competitive car and we lost a little bit of ground not coming out of the first corner, and we had to switch strategies and make sure that we stopped after Ferrari for the first stint so that we could go longer than them and overtake at the final stop. That was our strategy. He [Hamilton] had a bit of a flat spotted tyre which hampered him, but really the cause of his problem was his puncture. Heikki did a very good job during the race.” With Kimi Raikkonen recovering from a dismal qualifying to finish third, setting his seventh fastest race lap of the season along the way, McLaren will no doubt remain wary of the scarlet threat as the F1 circus now takes a three week break before racing recommences in Valencia at the end of August.