Q+A Heikki Kovalainen

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Vodafone McLaren Mercedes today presented the MP4-23, the team’s 2008 Formula 1 car, at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Heikki Kovalainen, who joined the team in December, could of course not be missed at this event. He will fly to Jerez tonight as he will shakedown the car at Jerez de la Frontera tomorrow.

What are your aims for the 2008 Formula 1 season?

"Of course joining a very ambitious team I have to be aiming for a competitive season and to be able to fight for a good position in the Championship. However the priority for me in the build up to the season is to get to know the team and understand how they work. The aim is to get to Melbourne and when the lights go off be as prepared as I can be, so that at the end of the race, whatever the result, we are able to say that there wasn’t anything more that we could have done better. So my main aim is to prepare and then from there start to improve and score as many points as I can."

There will be two new circuits in Valencia and Singapore – both street circuits – are you looking forward to racing on these and visiting new cities?

"Yes absolutely. I have been in Valencia before obviously with Formula 1 testing, but the street circuit will be a welcome addition to the calendar. I am sure it will be exciting as they are always challenging. In Singapore it should be interesting especially with it being a night race. It will be something that we have never done before and both circuits should be good experiences."

2008 will see the inclusion of a night race in Singapore for the first time – what are your thoughts on this?

"It’s a good thing to do as long as everything is safe and the lights are very good, Formula 1 is quite different to football and it will have a much bigger effect if a light fails. Obviously they have people working on that side of things, so as long as they can guarantee it all, it should be a very good thing for Formula 1. Also with the race being later we might be able to sleep a little longer."

You get to travel to some amazing places during the Formula 1 season, do you get to see much of the places you stay in?

"I usually fly back home on the Sunday night so it is very difficult to see anything anywhere. Having said that some of the flyaways are very interesting places, many which I have never been to before with different cultures like China and Malaysia. However I have no time for sightseeing so it doesn’t make too much of a difference where we are."

Was there one main thing that surprised you during your first year in Formula 1?

"I think the only thing that surprised me a little bit was the level of the competition and just how high it is. If you are not working 100% all the time and if you don’t put the maximum effort in with the team then somebody will get ahead of you and you start going backwards. I knew Formula 1 pretty well before last year as I was a test driver and knew the schedule of a Grand Prix weekend, but it is very competitive and you have to keep working non-stop throughout the year."

What is the best thing about being a Formula 1 driver?

"To drive a Formula 1 car, absolutely. That is a very easy question to answer, it is simply just the sensation of driving the car."

Favourite film?

"I am a fan of John Travolta and Sean Connery and one really good film from Sean Connery is ‘The Rock’, so that is one of my favourites."

Favourite song?

"I love a Finnish band called NightWish. It is like metal music but it is not very heavy and I think that the singer is good. They have a new album out and there is song called ‘Bye Bye Beautiful’ which is really nice."

Favourite actor?

"John Travolta and Sean Connery"

The best dish you can cook?

"I can make a Chinese Chicken dish with rice, it is the only more complicated food I can cook, the rest is just tomatoes with pasta."

What would you never eat?

"I am not a fan of Japanese food, frog’s legs and things like that. In fact I am quite fussy and I don’t really like any slippery food, or raw fish, I just stick to Italian food."

Most embarrassing moment ever?

"I haven’t had a really bad one but when I went to test a GP2 car one winter at Paul Ricard, I crashed into the pitwall coming out of the garage – straight into the wall. It was the first run in the morning and the mechanics had been working on the car most of the night; I took a corner off and the front wing. They had asked me to do the test as an experienced Formula 1 test driver at this stage, so it was pretty embarrassing."

The day you will never forget?

"Beating Michael Schumacher at the Race of Champions in 2004. Even though it didn’t make a difference to my career, it was just an amazing moment. The Stade de France was full and the atmosphere was amazing. Also it was a surprise victory as no one really knew who I was and no one normally beats Michael, so everyone was really cheering me when I was jumping on top of the car. That is a really good memory."

Luxury you could not live without?

"My Vodafone mobile phone or laptop. I am a gadget freak and have to have all the new toys."

Favourite corner?

"It would be Pouhon at Spa which is a fast left-hander. It is a really good corner as it is not easy flat but if you get everything perfect with a good line and car set up then it might be just flat out. But generally all the high speed corners are good in Formula 1."