Continuing BlogF1’s guest post series, today I have a new Formula One blogger writing for you. Duncan recently started vee8 as a dedicated Formula One site, although he has been writing for years at his personal site, doctorvee. Being a regular commenter at BlogF1, I’ve come to realise that Duncan has a shrewd eye for detail and I’ve always admired his F1-related posts in the past. For today, we have the McLaren duo to discuss; how will Hamilton fair against his equally experienced team mate Heikki Kovalainen? Enjoy…
Of the driver pairings lining up on the grid this season, surely McLaren’s is the most mouthwatering. In terms of talent, McLaren’s line-up is arguably the strongest on the grid. Not bad for a pair of drivers who were rookies last season.
But it is also a particularly mouthwatering prospect in terms of which of the drivers will come out on top. It was often said last season that Lewis Hamilton benefited by being in the best car in the grid and that if Heikki Kovalainen had been in the Brit’s shoes then Kovy would have got just as much attention. This season will put that theory to the test.
The first thing to point out is that, despite the theory, Kovalainen faces an uphill struggle to beat Lewis Hamilton this season. The Brit blew everyone away with his instant speed and obvious comfort within the McLaren team. For much of the season he had the upper hand over his more experienced team mate. That really is saying something because I consider Fernando Alonso to be the best driver in the pack.
Of course, one can point to the fact that Hamilton always had an advantage over his team mate. After all, the Brit has effectively been an employee of McLaren for around a decade. That is easily long enough for the team and the driver to form a special relationship. As McLaren have invested so much in Hamilton’s career, Hamilton will feel particularly motivated to repay the team for the trust they have shown over the years.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso came along having spent several years in a team with a very different culture – Renault. Heikki Kovalainen has arrived at McLaren from the same team. The odds will be stacked against him. If a double World Champion found the situation tough to handle, goodness knows how the relatively inexperienced Kovalainen will cope.
On skill alone, though, surely Kovalainen has what it takes? Well, that is the $64,000 question because maybe he doesn’t. There were big expectations when he arrived in Melbourne last year. But he was so disappointing that Flavio Briatore joked that it must have been Heikki’s brother who was driving.
Maybe that suggests that Kovalainen cannot handle the big occasion. I’m sure my nerves would be jangling if I were competing in my first ever Formula 1 race. Hamilton, too, struggled under the almighty pressure of the Championship climax at the end of the 2007 season. But during his first race Hamilton impressed us all with his amazing confidence and composure. The question is, therefore, if Kovalainen found his first race too nerve-wracking, how on earth would he cope when the heat is really on and he is competing for the World Championship?
And this is the thing. Hamilton already has experience in this area. Okay, so he made some quite serious mistakes towards the end of last season. But the experience will have taught him a lot. Hamilton was already an amazingly mature driver when he arrived in Melbourne at this time last year. Imagine how wise that head is now following the events of last season.
He will have learnt how to deal with his own mistakes. He has endured psychological warfare against a double World Champion. He has dealt with a highly politically charged season, with McLaren’s spying woes that just went from bad to worse as the season went on. And during testing he has coped with racial insults from an (albeit tiny minority of) army of angry and partisan Alonso fans.
This is all character-building stuff, and Kovalainen has not benefited from any of it. Languishing in the mid pack in a disappointingly slow car and wringing a few results of it was probably not what Kovalainen had in mind. It will have done one of two things. Either it has made him hungrier for success, in which case Hamilton should watch out. The alternative is that it has stunted Kovalainen’s development and propelled him into a career of Trulli- or Fisichella-style resignation.
Whatever, it is difficult to say that Kovalainen has benefited from the experience of 2007 as much as Hamilton will have. That will make the Brit even more formidable than he was against Alonso. I dearly hope, for the sake of good competition, that Kovalainen has what it takes to battle with Formula 1’s golden boy. But I fear that he does not.
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