McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh and team principal Ron Dennis have both paid tribute to Heikki Kovalainen for his impressive recent run of form, with Whitmarsh going so far as to say the young Finn has become a 'more complete driver'.

After a tough run of form earlier in the season, where he picked up just a single point in a four-race spell from Spain to Canada, Kovalainen had upped the ante in recent events and followed his maiden win in Hungary with a solid fourth place in Valencia last weekend.

It means Kovalainen lies fifth in the standings with six races remaining and Whitmarsh said he had improved as a driver as the season had progressed.

"The reality is that Heikki's particularly strong when he's got the car in front in his sights," he said. "When he homes in on another competitor then his natural competitive instincts really come alive.

"Heikki's much more adept at switching effortlessly between engine-saving, brake-saving and tyre-saving modes and knows exactly when to push - so the situation he encountered at the start of the year when he was dealing with slightly more tyre degradation is no longer a concern."

Kovalainen also drew praise from Dennis, who denied that the decision taken earlier this year to take up an option on the 26-year-old for 2009 had been taken because he provided the perfect back-up for team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

"Heikki is doing a fabulous job this year - as his recent victory at the Hungaroring showed only too clearly," he told the official Formula One website. "His qualifying pace has been extremely strong all year, and his race pace is improving all the time. He's a pleasure to have in our team, and he and Lewis have a very good relationship with each other.

"I'd describe them as competitive and co-operative in equal measure, which is exactly what every team wants from its driver line-up. That being the case, it was never in any doubt that we'd take up the option on Heikki's services, and we're delighted to have been able to knock the silly-season speculation on the head by announcing our 2009 driver line-up so early.

"To repeat, then: Heikki is doing a very good job for us this year, and he'll continue to do a very good job for us next year."