Kovalainen lost confidence towards end of McLaren F1 stint

© Getty Images

Former McLaren Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen says his sacking from the team at the end of the 2009 season came as no surprise after a tough spell that saw him lose confidence as a racer.

In the latest ‘McLaren and Me’ blog on the team’s website, Kovalainen spoke widely about his two-season tenure with the team that saw him becoming a grand prix winner and partner Lewis Hamilton during his championship-winning year.

Kovalainen joined McLaren for 2008 after Fernando Alonso’s ill-fated year with the team, effectively swapping seats with the Spaniard as he returned to Renault.

“My Renault season in 2007 was a difficult year for me, but it ended strongly. However, Flavio Briatore had already committed to take Nelson Piquet on board for 2008, and it looked like there wasn’t going to be any room for me at Renault,” Kovalainen revealed.

“There was a strong option with Toyota, and then McLaren happened quite suddenly. I think it was the beginning of December when they announced that Fernando Alonso was going to leave.

“McLaren contacted Flavio, and suddenly I had McLaren and Toyota options available! It was quite an easy decision to make, and I called the Toyota boss and said, ‘Thank you very much but I must go for McLaren.’

“Within a few days of the drive becoming available I signed a deal with [McLaren F1 chief] Martin Whitmarsh.”

Kovalainen took his maiden grand prix victory in Hungary after Ferrari’s Felipe Massa suffered an engine failure with three laps remaining, lucking in after a tough start to the season.

“Hungary was a semi-good weekend performance wise, I think I qualified on the second row,” Kovalainen said.

“I was running third behind Massa and Lewis. Lewis had problems with the tyres all weekend, he was wearing out the left-front more than I was, and the tire just wore through and he had a puncture.

“I moved up to second and then a few laps from the end I saw a car parked on the straight. It was a bit fortunate for me, and Massa deserved to win that race, but for once luck was on my side.

“I felt I could have won a race earlier that season, and I felt we had all the ingredients to do it when people hadn’t dropped out, and a couple of times earlier in the season I lost a podium or a victory because of some unfortunate things happening.

“It was obviously a very nice feeling, especially just before the summer break, so I was hoping that it would be a turning point.”

After seeing Hamilton win his maiden F1 title in 2008, 2009 proved to be a more difficult year for McLaren as it struggled to get to grips with the new technical regulations.

Kovalainen was limited to just 22 points across the course of the season, and was told early on that he was third choice behind Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button for a seat in 2010.

“Martin Whitmarsh kept me up to date. He told me early on that they will look for another driver, they will look for Kimi, and they were also looking for Jenson Button,” Kovalainen said.

“But both of those drivers might not be available, and Martin said to me if not, then you’ll be the third choice.

“It became apparent that Kimi wasn’t going to come, so it was only Button, and they were awaiting news on what he was going to do. In fact, I was in America and it was Thanksgiving Day when Martin called me to say, ‘We have signed Jenson.’

“My results weren’t good enough, and I was kind of expecting it. But I felt that I could do better, and maybe the team would give me another shot.

“But, in a team like McLaren, when things don’t go well they change things, and that’s what they did.

“McLaren taught me a lot, and I learned a lot from Lewis as well. As a team they were able to help me and guide me.

“I became a better driver, but I think I lost a bit of confidence during the second half of 2009, and I felt I needed to go back to the starting point and start again with the information that I had after those two years.

“That’s the reason I went with Caterham, to give myself time to build something again.”

Kovalainen’s stint with Caterham failed to yield a single point over three seasons, nor did a two-race stint with Lotus towards the end of 2013. The Finn currently plies his trade in Japan, racing in the Super GT series with Lexus.

However, he looks back on his stint with McLaren with fondness.

“I have good memories of McLaren, and it was the best team I ever worked with, a really great team and a powerful team,” Kovalainen said.

“Sometimes nowadays when I see them struggling I feel sorry for them, and I hope they can come back to where they should be.”

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”