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F1 birthday boy Kovalainen out of luck in China.

Heikki Kovalainen was left to reflect on one of the most troubled races of his 2008 Formula 1 season following the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, as a whole litany of problems conspired to leave him out of luck and out of contention on the day he turned 27.

Having qualified a disappointing fifth, a bright start saw the Finn go bravely all the way around the outside of the man he replaced at McLaren-Mercedes, Fernando Alonso, for fourth place on the opening tour, but a small mistake later on around the lap enabled the Renault driver to pull alongside again and out-brake Kovalainen into the final corner.

From thereon in the Hungarian Grand Prix winner ran fifth for most of the race, briefly rising to the lead by dint of running a long first stint and threatening to put the pressure back on Alonso again as the second round of pit-stops loomed, but a puncture on lap 35 destroyed his charge and left him down at the rear of the field, before a loss of hydraulic pressure 15 laps later brought the curtain down prematurely on his efforts for the second race in succession.

“I made a good start, got past Fernando and almost got alongside Felipe [Massa],” Kovalainen related. “Fernando managed to re-pass me before turn 14, and I settled down in fifth. I had a lot of understeer during my first stint, and tried to improve things during the first stop by raising the front wing angle.

“Later, I was still running in the points when I had a puncture early on in the lap – it cost me a lot of time driving slowly back to the pits, and I knew it would be an uphill struggle for the rest of the race.

“In the closing stages I had a problem with the pneumatic system, so the team called me in as a precautionary measure. We still have a chance to win the constructors' championship in Brazil, so I'll definitely be going for it in São Paulo.”

Indeed, whilst McLaren can still steal constructors' glory from under the noses of arch-rivals Ferrari at Interlagos, Kovalainen's third consecutive failure to score cost him a spot to Alonso in the drivers' standings, leaving him sitting just seventh heading into the season finale.

“Heikki's first stint was compromised by the fitting of a set of mis-matched tyres,” explained the Woking-based outfit's team principal Ron Dennis, “which caused his car to understeer. After his first stop, a punctured tyre then forced an unscheduled pit-stop before an air pressure problem with his engine caused us to retire him in order to avoid risking an engine failure.”

“I am sorry for Heikki,” added Mercedes-Benz Vice-President Norbert Haug. “He first had a puncture, which cost him a lap, and later we had to call him in as a precautionary measure as the air consumption in his engine was too high.”

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