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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 07:25 GMT
Heikki Kovalainen column
Heikki Kovalainen
By Heikki Kovalainen
Renault F1 driver

I arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday and my first Grand Prix is looming fast, but I don't expect to get nervous as Sunday gets closer. I'm not that kind of guy.

I normally stay calm. For sure there will be a lot of pressure, but it doesn't affect my driving. It never has done and it won't in the future either.

Expectations are high, but I will focus on my own job and try to beat everybody

People have been asking me whether I can emulate Giancarlo Baghetti's feat in 1961 and win a Grand Prix on my debut.

But to me it doesn't matter too much what other people are thinking.

Expectations are high, but I focus on my own job and try to be the best.

I will really try to beat everybody. That's what the team want me to do, and then at the end we will see.

I'll just work with the team and try to make the most of it and finish the race. That's the goal.

Heikki Kovalainen in his Renault during winter testing
Renault have improved throughout the winter, Kovalainen says
I arrived in Australia last Saturday and went straight to a training camp that the team had planned.

We went to the north-east coast of Australia and spent a couple of days doing exercises and acclimatising to the different time zone.

I started working with the team at the Albert Park track on Wednesday afternoon, preparing for the race, and we start the engines for first practice on Friday morning.


I had a nice relaxing time before leaving Europe for the first race.

Heikki Kovalainen crashes his Renault in Bahrain testing in February
I crashed at a 152mph corner. It was quite a big bang. I bent the barrier 30 degrees so it did a lot of damage but I wasn't hurt

In the days before I left for Australia, I was quite busy doing some promotional work in Finland, where I also enjoyed a bit of free time doing some winter sports, so it was a nice calm environment.

Before that, we finished our winter testing programme with two weeks in Bahrain and I believe the team and I have done the maximum preparation for the first race.

Winter testing has gone very well, although I did have a big crash in the first week in Bahrain.

I went a bit wide coming out of the high-speed, right-left chicane at turns six and seven.

I hit a kerb a little bit too hard on the exit, the car bottomed out and I lost the rear end.

It went into the barrier backwards. It's a fast corner - the speed is something like 245km/h (152mph) - and it was quite a big bang.

I bent the barrier about 30 degrees, so it did a lot of damage to the car but I wasn't hurt at all. I had a little bit of a dizzy head straight afterwards, but after that it was fine.

These things happen. Sometimes you crash and sometimes you don't.

I don't feel I'm any different after the crash. I've experienced crashes in smaller formula cars before and this was nothing special for me.

Heikki Kovalainen cross-country skiing in Finland
Heikki was able to fit in some skiing before flying to Australia
I will try to push as hard as I can all the time and obviously I am not aiming to make a mistake and go over the limit all the time and crash, but if it happens again I'm not afraid of it.

The most disappointing thing was having to hang around another 24 hours without driving.

But the team did a great job. They flew out some parts from England and were able to rebuild the car very quickly and get back out on to the track and we carried on the programme as planned, so it didn't put us back at all.


By the end of our time in Bahrain, I was happy and confident we were going in the right direction, and that we can be competitive in Melbourne.

We were not as fast as we wanted when we started testing, but towards the end of the tests we improved the car all the time and the last week in Bahrain was the best.

Ferrari are clearly a little bit ahead of everybody else

The reliability has been pretty good all the time and now we have proved the pace as well.

On the long runs we have always been pretty good. The tyre degradation has been reasonably good and we can keep a consistent pace.

The biggest problem we had before the Bahrain test was to get the best out of the new tyres on a qualifying run.

But with the set-up changes we made over there I think we managed to do that, so now the car is also quick on the first lap and we get the best out of the new tyres. That was a big step for us.

It looked like we were catching up a little bit throughout the tests and at the end there was only a couple of 10ths in it between us and McLaren, close enough to start a real fight with them, and that's what we're going to be targeting.

Heikki Kovalainen leads Lewis' Hamilton's McLaren in pre-season testing
Renault are closely matched with McLaren, Kovalainen says
Ferrari are clearly a little bit ahead of everybody else, but that doesn't mean we are not working flat out to catch them.

We know what we want to improve in terms of gaining the lap time, and that is what we are doing.

BMW Sauber also looked quite competitive but only time will tell in Melbourne how the situation really is.

Testing can be misleading. You never really know what the other teams are doing. But I believe it's going to be a close season.

At least these top four teams are closely matched, and if you make any mistakes or do not maximise your potential, you can be out of the top 10 quite easily.


If you could pick a circuit to get your first win, where would it be and why?

"Melbourne, because it's the next race."

If you had any advice for someone who wanted to start motor racing, what would it be?

Just believe in yourself and keep working very hard. Try to maximise every opportunity.

Start in karting. Don't necessarily go to the best karts and best teams straight away. It's good to be in the middle and learn to fight when you are young.

Then, when you go a bit higher up in European and world level, get better equipment and try to win championships.

If you weren't a racing driver, which sport would you be in?

Difficult question. I'd probably be a rally driver!

Apart from that, I don't know. I do a few different sports, but I wouldn't want to be a top athlete in any of them. I just want to be a racing driver, or maybe a pilot.

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