Heikki Kovalainen admitted to having 'pushed just a little too hard' at the end of qualifying for the European Grand Prix in Valencia – as a tiny twitch cost the him what would likely have been his second career F1 pole position.
Both Kovalainen and reigning world champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton have looked rapid indeed throughout the weekend so far, and maintaining that form the Finn briefly topped the times in Q1 before settling for fourth spot in the opening session and third in Q2.
Having put in a conservative banker to place just seventh in the first half of the all-important top ten shoot-out, Kovalainen then really showed his true colours on his second run, storming to within a whisker of the sister Silver Arrow before going quicker again on his subsequent and final effort and looking like unseating Hamilton from the coveted top spot.
That was, however, until the very end of the lap, when a brief clip of the kerb led to a twitch and out-of-sorts entry into the final turn – and the chance was gone. Barely three hundredths of a second adrift in the end, it might just as well have been an eternity – but still the man from Suomussalmi professed himself pleased with his best qualifying result since Monza last year.
“Obviously, I'm pleased that I'll be starting from the front row tomorrow,” reflected Kovalainen, having also been hampered by missing vital set-up time in FP3 due to Sebastian Vettel's engine failure, “but I made a mistake at the end of my quickest lap and could have gone a little faster still.
“I knew qualifying would be very close, and I was sure our car would be competitive, so I decided to really go for it today. As a result, I pushed just a little too hard – but it was a calculated risk and I lost only one place and, even better, I lost it to Lewis, so we nailed the front row anyway. The guys back in Woking have done a lot of great work this week since the end of the summer shutdown, and I want to say thank you to all of them.”
Kovalainen's performance also came at a timely juncture, with paddock whispers that his seat at the multiple world championship-winning, Woking-based outfit is far from safe next year, with Williams ace Nico Rosberg understood to be waiting patiently in the wings to usurp him should his consistency and race day showings not improve [see separate story – click here
]. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged that the outcome of the session had been a real shot in the arm for the 27-year-old.
“Heikki was totally on it today,” stated the Englishman. “He really went for it and very nearly pinched pole position at the very end.”
“Heikki was only a fraction – 0.034 seconds – slower and could have made the top spot as well,” agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “He was really strong from lap one on this track. Thanks to everybody in the team who worked so hard after the summer break. I have the feeling that in the week since, even more work was done in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart than in three weeks of flat-out business before the break.”