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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
Heikki Kovalainen column
Heikki Kovalainen
By Heikki Kovalainen
Renault F1 driver

Being a Formula One driver is the best job in the world, but it is nowhere near as glamorous as you might think.

The image is of young men flying all over the world, a new girl in every country, but the reality is different.

I don't regard myself as a celebrity or a superstar. F1 drivers - so what?

Heikki Kovalainen

We get a lot of attention. Every time we go to the circuit and the hotel there are always people waiting around the drivers and wanting to take photos.

People are so excited to see an F1 driver they can go completely mad. They are shaking when they see you.

This year is the first time I have really experienced it and sometimes it is hard to understand. It's like, "Well, what have I done?" I don't regard myself as a celebrity or a superstar. F1 drivers - so what?

I can understand it with movie stars, those people who are on TV every day and doing great movies or whatever. They are the big stars. But F1 drivers?

Yes, we go around the world a lot, but it is not the lifestyle people think, that we drink champagne on the plane, go to the nightclubs, from one party to another with celebrity friends.

Heikki Kovalainen feels the strain at the Bahrain Grand Prix
Being a Grand Prix driver is a very demanding job
I am sure I could pull a girl by saying I am an F1 driver, but I have a girlfriend who I have been with a long time and I try to avoid those sort of situations.

I think that is the case with many F1 drivers. The hectic lifestyle puts them off, and many of us want to have a quiet night at home with our own girlfriends or friends.

The work is very busy. It is impossible to have a normal life and it is very bad for your social life as well.

You are travelling non-stop around the world. Schedules quite often change at the last minute, so sometimes you have to cancel things, so girlfriends get angry, family get angry - well, not angry, but frustrated.

The reality is we arrive at the airport, go to the hotel, and then all weekend it is between hotel and circuit. There is hardly anything else to do.

For us, a Grand Prix weekend is a succession of briefings with our engineers, driving, more briefings, some interviews with media and sponsor commitments or maybe an autograph session with the fans, more briefings and then back to the hotel.

I know F1 drivers get paid a lot of money but we are here because we really are the best drivers

It is a full-on programme, and after each day at the track I am really looking forward to going back to the hotel to have a rest and sleep.

Mentally you are very tired after every day. Nearly every time at the hotel I have food in my own room.

I do not go to restaurants or go out because, with all the hectic moments in the paddock, with people trying to drag you and all the crowds, I really need the evening to cool down, watch a movie on my laptop or whatever.

Last weekend in Belgium was dominated by the sort of off-track politics that you get a lot in F1 but I don't pay attention to that.

We are not involved in this case, so I have not read any news about it. I know the fine and I know what McLaren did but I'm not interested to be honest.

A Formula One grid girl
F1 trades on its glamorous image - but all is not as it seems
It did not change my weekend at all, and even last week I was not following it.

If I was involved, of course, that would be different. People would be constantly coming to ask me about it and it would be another thing to try to explain.

At the moment, people go to Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Ron Dennis, and maybe Ferrari as well to ask about it.

I know F1 drivers get paid a lot of money - although some of them earn a lot more than me! - but we are here because we really are the best drivers.

And if you want to get a really good one, you have to pay a lot of money, and then the average goes up as well. It's supply and demand.

Many people can say, "Oh, they get paid too much." But if you put some other guy in Fernando's seat, for example, and you paid 10% of his salary, I don't think they could do the same job as him.

Maybe these are the reasons why drivers get paid well. But in other sports it's the same - the good ones get paid well.

The flip side of it being a tough life is that we get to drive these fabulous cars at places like Spa-Francorchamps.

Heikki Kovalainen's Renault rounds La Source hairpin at the Belgian Grand Prix
Kovalainen had another competitive run in Belgium last weekend
That is the best of our job - it is one of the best experiences you can have.

And I am really enjoying my time in F1 even through some of the difficult times we've had this year.

I have always kept the belief that it will turn out good some day, and now it is starting to turn around.

We had another good weekend in Spa. I was quick all weekend, and we did an unusual one-stop strategy. It did not work out as we had hoped, but we are definitely getting closer to where we want to be.

Heikki Kovalainen was talking to Andrew Benson

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