McLaren-Mercedes has dropped the biggest hint yet that Heikki Kovalainen will remain at the Woking-based outfit next year, despite the Finn having struggled to make a great impression over the first half of the 2008 campaign.
Kovalainen has notched up just 28 points from the opening ten grands prix of the current season – his first with McLaren – less than half the tally of world championship-leading team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with but a sole rostrum finish to his name compared to the Briton's four victories.
Though much of that can be attributed to a run of bad luck set off by his tyre rim failure-induced high-speed crash during the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona back in April – following which he registered just a single point over the subsequent three outings – there have also been question marks raised regarding the 26-year-old's future at McLaren, after he has been consistently outpaced by Hamilton, trailing his team-mate seven-three in qualifying and five-three in the races in which both have taken the chequered flag.
What's more, Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber – now looking after the career of Williams test driver Nico Hülkenberg – has claimed that Kovalainen will be replaced in 2009 by highly-rated Williams incumbent Nico Rosberg [see separate story – click here
Whilst stopping short of confirming that the man from Suomussalmi will definitely be staying on-board, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug has moved to insist that the former Renault rookie is a 'star in the making', adding that McLaren is under no 'pressure' to firm up its line-up.
“It can be assumed that Kovalainen is staying with us,” the German is quoted as having told German press agency dpa
. “There is no deadline.”
Meanwhile, Kovalainen has also received a vote of confidence from countryman, fellow former McLaren ace and double F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, who lauded the 'great harmony' that his young compatriot has brought to the team following the turbulent Fernando Alonso era in 2007.
“He has been working really well with the engineers and with Lewis,” the 39-year-old told PA Sport
, “and the harmony is now great. That's a very important point.”