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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2007, 13:30 GMT
Heikki Kovalainen column
Heikki Kovalainen column

By Heikki Kovalainen
Renault Formula One driver

The car I will be racing this year was officially unveiled in Amsterdam on Wednesday - and after driving it last week I'm pretty optimistic about the season.

We had two cars at a test in Jerez in Spain - one for me and one for my team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella - which is pretty impressive for the car's first test.

We had some problems with my car for the first two days so we didn't manage to do as many laps as we would have liked.

Giancarlo Fisichella, team boss Flavio Briatore and Heikki Kovalainen pose with the new Renault R27 at the official launch in Amsterdam
The first impressions of the new car are good and that's the main thing

But that's to be expected and there was nothing major; it was just little glitches that you always get with a new car.

On the last day, we had no problems. I managed to do 112 laps and the times were very encouraging.

The car feels very good. Obviously it's early days and we haven't seen what the other teams can do, but I have a feeling we have made a good car.

My first impression was that it was better than last year's car, and looking at the lap times and consistency in the long runs it's certainly a big improvement.

That suggests the car is good. It felt like it was working better than the old car with the new tyres. We obviously still need to learn more but the first impressions are good and that's the main thing.

The characteristics of the car are similar to the last two years. There is nothing revolutionary in the design. There are just small detail changes.

But the mechanical balance felt better and obviously the aerodynamics are improving all the time, even if the gains will be small because it's the third year under the current rules and all the teams have pretty much optimised their aerodynamics.

WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING

Last week's test was my first time in a Formula One car since Christmas, which I spent back in my home village in Finland with my family.

Even where my family live close to Lapland we didn't have a lot of snow this winter

Normally I like to do a lot of cross-country skiing and snowmobile driving and all sorts of things outside in the snow.

I've got a few quick snowmobiles, and I normally do some racing with them, although I'm always careful - managers are not too happy when I'm driving them!

But this year it has not been like a normal winter. Even where my family live close to the border with Lapland we didn't have a lot of snow and it wasn't even that cold. There's something strange happening in the climate.

There was snow, but not enough to go out with Skidoos. And there were not even a lot of routes ready for skiing, just the main ones where they'd brought down some snow from the far north of Finland.

But anyway it was nice to chill out, even if it was more hard work than a holiday because, for the first time in my life, I had a fitness trainer with me for the whole week.

I managed to go out cross-country skiing with him but mainly it was spending time in the gym and running outside.

BACK TO WORK

I got back to the UK in the first week of January and started preparing at the Renault factory for the tests with the new car, training in the morning and spending time with the engineers in the afternoon.

The factory is going 24 hours a day over the winter and quite often those people who are really doing the hard work there get forgotten

I also went around the factory late one night to see all the guys working the nightshift.

The factory is going 24 hours a day over the winter and quite often those people who are really doing the hard work there get forgotten.

I went to all the different departments. It is important that they see I am fully committed, and I want to show them I do everything to get results.

It wasn't that I just walked around the workshop to show my face. I tried to understand what is going on and how things work there.

They were very happy to see me, and it was nice to see them before I went off to Jerez to drive the car they had built.

WHAT I AM DOING NEXT

I am scheduled to go to Italy for three days at the end of this week for my annual fitness check-up. I have a new trainer and this is just part of the normal routine for this year.

Heikki Kovalainen
In Finland, as long as you can reach the pedals you can go out in a road car - not legally, but quietly in the middle of the night when there are no police around

As well as a comprehensive medical test, we do fitness tests and see how I'm doing with things like my cardio, my power levels, my neck - all the things that need to be correct in a racing car.

If there's anything we need to improve we still have time to change my fitness programme before the season starts.

But I felt pretty good at the test so I am quite confident it will just be a nice check-up and then we can get on with the year.

It's pretty busy between now and the start of the season in Melbourne. I have about 10-12 days in the car before going to Australia, including two weeks in Bahrain in late February.

That is an important test because the conditions in Europe in the winter are very different from those we'll find in Melbourne, and Bahrain will give us a chance to try the car in hot weather.

When I'm not driving, I will spend some time in the factory after the tests going through the results so we can prepare in the best possible way. And then I do fitness whenever there is a bit of a break.

With long days in the tests, plus all the travelling and the extras it wears you out, so you need some time to recover.

But I enjoy doing fitness, and being in the car is what I love. I'm already looking forward to Valencia and getting a chance to drive it again.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Why do you think Finland has produced so many top racing drivers?
Bobby_M

It's a tricky question. I get asked it a lot and I think there is no right or wrong answer.

In Finland we start driving quite early. As long as you can reach the pedals of your road car you can go on the back roads or farm roads - not legally, but quietly in the middle of the night when there are no police around. That's what I did, at least!

Also, I think when you get your driving licence, the roads are quite slippery in the winter and maybe you learn to control the car better, I don't know.

Maybe we learn something because people start quite early practising in the fields or near their farmhouses.

Did the cold winters in Finland make it difficult for you when you were starting off in go-karts?
Skully_Collins

I don't think it was a disadvantage.

At the latest, we were able to start driving in March-April. They just dragged the snow away from the kart tracks, and as soon as the sun came up for a few hours a day the tracks dried out. And we drove with the snow banks around us sometimes.

All the drivers want to be quicker than their team-mates - I'm sure Giancarlo wants to be quicker than me, and I want to be quicker than him

We did a few races and tests like that.

Obviously when I felt I needed to move on, I moved away from Finland and I went to the international tracks and I had the opportunity to do the races around Europe rather than just Scandinavia.

What's the relationship like between you and Giancarlo? Is he the number one? And what will happen if you're quicker than him this year?
Machiavelli

At the moment the relationship is very good and I don't see any reason why it won't be good all the way through the year. It was already good last year.

I don't think we have a number one. I am happy as long as we have equal status and at Renault the policy has always been like that - and I think it's the same for Giancarlo.

Giancarlo Fisichella
Kovalainen says his relationship with Fisichella is good
Whether I'll be quicker than him is something I'm not really thinking about now. At the moment obviously it's important just to get a feeling for the car and not to compare the lap times.

All the drivers want to be quicker than their team-mates. I'm sure he wants to be quicker than me, and I want to be quicker than him, but it's not the focus at the moment.

Who knows what will happen if I'm quicker than him or he's quicker than me? We will have to wait and see, but I think it will be all right.

What do you think about the relationship between the media and Formula One?
Beta-Yukino

Well, there is obviously a lot of media involved and it is quite normal that there is a lot of attention on the drivers and the teams.

I don't have any problem with it. Some people like what you say, some people don't. To me, the most important thing is that a lot of people are following it.

I don't think it will bother me even in the future. At the moment it's quite easy because there are other drivers who get a lot more attention, but if I get more in the future I don't think it will be a problem.

What effect has it had on the cars this year now everyone is using the same make of tyres?
bravestevaldo

Of course I was very happy to beat Michael Schumacher in the Race of Champions because it was a really big surprise

You probably have to be a little bit smoother. You can't be as aggressive as before.

They are harder so they have less grip, so you can't carry the same speed into the corners and you can't brake as late.

If anything you try to keep the momentum a little bit more throughout the corner rather than just attack and brake and then accelerate hard out.

How did you feel beating Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Loeb in the Race of Champions in 2004?
Red Bull tastes like petrol

I guess people who watched that race saw how I felt after the event. I dented the roof of a Ferrari nicely by jumping on it!

Of course I was very happy because it was a really big surprise. I didn't know what to expect of that event. I felt a little bit strange.

Kovalainen beat Michael Schumacher and world rally champion Sebastien Loeb on his way to winning the 2004 Race of Champions
Winning the 2004 Race of Champions "felt so good"
I was there with all the F1 drivers and rally drivers and world champions and then there was me. I had done nothing yet, and even today I haven't done much, I'm still at the beginning of my career.

But I knew it was a good opportunity for me - new cars and new track for everybody.

I thought if things went well I would probably have a chance, but it was such a big surprise and that's probably why it felt so good.

What's the biggest difference between an F1 car and a GP2 car, and how much harder do you think it will be doing a full season?
BoxFullOfNeutrals

Physically, F1 cars are harder to drive. You have more grip and g-force in the corners, and you need to be prepared for that, and also the competition is higher.

GP2 is a pretty good category but obviously all the drivers in F1 are pretty good. I think that is the most difficult thing, to be able to beat those guys and the other teams.

You have to do everything to the maximum to be able to compete, and obviously it helps if you are in a good team and for me it is a good opportunity this year and we have to try to maximise everything.

Where would you be happy finishing this season?
JobyJak

It's difficult to say. I haven't really thought about the end of the season yet. I've just thought a little bit about the Melbourne race.

Of course we want to be competitive and I am not happy if I haven't done some good races through the year, but at the moment setting goals for the end of the year is not a priority.

The most important thing is to start the season well, try to finish the race in Melbourne and score some points. After that we need to improve all year long.

Of course it would be nice to do some really good races, be on the podium and even win a race. That's why everyone is in F1. They want to win.

But at the moment I really haven't set any goals for where I want to be at the end of the year. I want to do the first race first.



SEE ALSO
Renault confident over new F1 car
24 Jan 07 |  Formula One
New-look McLaren impresses Alonso
17 Jan 07 |  Formula One
New Renault breaks cover in test
16 Jan 07 |  Formula One
Heikki Kovalainen column
20 Dec 06 |  Formula One
Kovalainen wins Race of Champions
04 Dec 04 |  Motorsport
Photos from the Race of Champions
05 Dec 04 |  Photo Galleries


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