McLaren-Mercedes has drawn a line under speculation swirling around the future of Heikki Kovalainen, by confirming that it has taken up its option on the Finn's contract for 2009.
There had been whispers – started by Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber, now looking after the interests of Williams test driver Nico Hülkenberg – that Kovalainen's seat could be under threat from Nico Rosberg, who McLaren is known to rate highly and who was on top of the team's shopping list to replace two-time world champion Fernando Alonso following the Spaniard's premature departure from the fold at the end of the 2007 Formula 1 season.
Though Kovalainen has displayed encouraging speed in 2008 – only his second campaign in the top flight – particularly in qualifying, he has been dogged by bad luck and a lack of race pace in comparison to world championship-leading team-mate Lewis Hamilton, seeing him notch up just 28 points so far to the Briton's 58.
Former triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart has claimed that the Woking-based outfit needs Kovalainen to start scoring bigger points if he is to not only help the squad towards the constructors' laurels, but also boost Hamilton's title bid [see separate story – click here
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh, however, insists that, despite the relative dearth of solid results – the highlights being pole position at Silverstone and a rostrum finish in Malaysia – the 26-year-old from Suomussalmi has been nothing but good for the team, which is rebuilding stability following the distinctly turbulent Alonso period.
“He is a brilliant young racing driver,” Whitmarsh is quoted as having said by the BBC
, “but there's no magic in Formula 1, and we still need to work with Heikki to extract his full potential.
“We welcomed Heikki on-board at the start of the year. He is under contract to McLaren-Mercedes and will race for us in the 2009 season.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton's Mercedes-Benz engine has been given the all-clear to be used for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, after becoming the first powerplant to be inspected by the sport's governing body, the FIA, as part of a process to ensure that all manufacturers are complying fully with the current so-called 'freeze' on engine development.
The German Grand Prix winner's V8 was inspected following Hamilton's Hockenheim triumph, and passed a routine and thorough inspection at the Hungaroring, the FIA confirmed.