Heikki Kovalainen has admitted that he put himself under too much pressure to perform during his maiden campaign with McLaren-Mercedes in Formula 1 in 2008 – and that he now knows he doesn't have to 'take all the blame on himself'.
Following an encouraging rookie year with Renault in 2007 – the highlight of which was a magnificent second place in the torrential downpour of the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, re-passing the Ferrari of soon-to-be world champion Kimi Raikkonen shortly before the chequered flag – the Finn endured a difficult first season with McLaren, with but one pole position and one victory to his name.
Indeed, had Lewis Hamilton not suffered a puncture and Ferrari's Felipe Massa an engine failure almost within sight of the finish line in the Hungarian Grand Prix in August, Kovalainen would not have triumphed at all, whilst his title-winning team-mate stood atop the podium on no fewer than six occasions (five not counting Spa). The pair ended the campaign separated by 45 points and six spots in the drivers' world championship.
“I think I put perhaps too much expectation on myself,” the 27-year-old is quoted as having said by F1SA
, “and sometimes I was too hard on myself if I didn't get pole position or didn't win the race.
“I don't believe there are any magic tricks or any special area that I really need to improve. I hope we can improve every area and the results should be better.
“I don't think I have to take all the blame on myself. If I have one session where I don't think I have maximised everything then I am not going to get stressed about it.”
One problem Kovalainen had to grapple with in 2008 was invariably being sent out in the crucial final phase of qualifying with more fuel on-board than Hamilton, seeing the Briton start ahead of him 14 times to four and leaving the 27-year-old all-too often on the back foot come the races, with a heavy car to deal with in the opening stint and therefore little hope of making up ground.
He also had to battle against myriad technical issues and a hefty, hospitalising shunt in Barcelona caused by a rapid tyre deflation, but there were bright spots along the way, such as his qualifying pace in both Istanbul and Silverstone and race-winning potential until his engine let go in Japan. The inaugural GP2 Series Vice-Champion is confident that if he can just learn to relax and have more belief in himself, there could be far more days like that in 2009.
“I think first of all I have to finish more races,” the man from Suomussalmi acknowledged. “Hopefully I can give better instructions and better direction for the team, the engineers and the designers, about what I need from the car.
“This year hopefully we can turn things around and hopefully I can have a stronger year.”