Heikki Kovalainen has admitted the first half of his maiden Formula 1 World Championship season has not particularly lived up to his expectations, but at the same time insisted he is now putting that behind him.

A patchy start to the season with Renault, peppered with various mechanical gremlins and personal mistakes, had put Kovalainen's reputation under immediate scrutiny, the Finn's cause hardly being aided by the runaway success of fellow rookie Lewis Hamilton at the head of the points table.

Nonetheless, the last few races have seen Kovalainen begin to turn his season around and he now goes into the second-half of the season having scored well in three of the last four races, results that have moved him up to eighth in the standings.

Indeed, the former GP2 runner-up blames a tricky car to set-up as amongst the reasons for his failure to shine over the first few rounds, but, coupled with new confidence in setting the R27 up, believes he is on the right course.

"It has not been the year we were expecting at Renault, but we have made a clear improvement," he wrote on his BBC Website blog. "The problems we had at the beginning of the season were two-fold - the car was a bit more difficult to drive than I was used to and I was not working as well as I could.

"Being a Formula One driver is not just about getting in the car and driving it, you have to work really hard out of it, too. I now realise I needed to spend a bit more time understanding the car before pushing it to its limits, especially in those races when I missed some practice time because of mechanical problems.

"I also needed to spend more time with the engineers and looking at what my team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was doing in practice, understanding what changes he made to his set-up and why. It is difficult to find the right balance between pushing hard enough and not enough."

The Canadian Grand Prix was a particular low for Kovalainen after a myriad of mistakes saw him qualify towards the back of the grid, quickly prompting whispers in the paddock that Renault could be looking to off-load him at the end of the season.

As it happens, Kovalainen drove a faultless race amongst the chaos that surrounded him to cross the line in fourth position, his best result to date. Nonetheless, it is the United States Grand Prix a week later that Kovalainen credits with being his finest of the season.

"It all started to come together at a test in Barcelona in May when we improved the way I was driving and the way the car was set up. The team gave me some feedback on what I was doing and what I needed to work on. All these things combined got me back on the right track. I've tried to keep it that way since then.

"Indianapolis was my best race so far. I was fighting with the guys at the top. I kept Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari behind me for the whole first stint and then fought with Nick Heidfeld's BMW all the way through the race. He broke down at the end and I finished fifth, the first guy after the McLarens and Ferraris."

Although others questioned his ability, Kovalainen claims he always believed he could match team-mate Fisichella this year and after out-qualifying and out-racing him at Silverstone, he claims he is doing just that already. However, it is BMW and not Fisichella that Kovalainen is setting his sights on.

"Even through the difficult times this year I always felt the team were 100% behind me and I always felt confident in myself. I never felt there was a question mark about my speed. I was always confident in my ability. Every year I have been racing I have always believed I could match my team-mate - and it is the same this year.

"I don't feel I need to beat Fisi to show the team how good I am. I think the team know already what I can do. I certainly don't feel any extra pressure to beat Fisi to keep my drive.

"Of course, it's always nice to be in front of your team-mate, but to be honest I didn't take much enjoyment from finishing ahead of him at Silverstone. We don't want to finish in seventh and eighth behind the Ferraris, McLarens and BMWs - we were world champions last year.

"But we hope we can beat BMW by the end of the year. We are on the right track and we can do better for the rest of the season."

 

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