Heikki Kovalainen delivered arguably the finest drive of his short Formula 1 career with a sixth place result in Turkey after a race in which he really took the fight to BMW for the first time this season.

Although Renault have vowed to challenge arch-rivals BMW at various times this season, usually without success, ironically on the weekend that the team announced they were shifting their focus to 2008, Kovalainen beat Robert Kubica and battled with Nick Heidfeld.

Kovalainen's strong result was partly thanks to his determined drive in qualifying and in the early stages of the race on a heavy fuel load that made him the last of the front runners to pit, the Finn even leading briefly whilst he was out of sequence.

Slotting back in between Heidfeld and Kubica, Kovalainen tried hard to vault the German at the second pit stops but had to settle for sixth eventually. Still, he did guarantee himself some air time in the closing stages when he chased down a hobbled Lewis Hamilton, eventually running out of laps and crossing the line just a few tenths behind.

Nonetheless, Kovalainen was delighted with the result, not least because it lifts him up to seventh - ahead of team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella - in the driver standings.

"This was a really good race for me," he said. "The start was quite exciting, as Heidfeld pushed me very wide on the run to the first corner, and I had to back off quite a lot. But I defended my position aggressively and once the tyres started working properly after a few laps, the car balance was stable and the pace was consistent.

"Both types of tyre worked well on our car today, although it felt a little more comfortable in the final laps on the softer one. The team did a great job with the pit-stops, and the strategy was spot on. Ever since N?rburgring when we introduced some new developments, we have been looking for the chance to prove they were a step forward, and I think this race has done that. Now, we need to get our heads down and try to make another step at Monza."

Unlikely to do his chances of staying with the team any harm at all, Flavio Briatore praised Kovalainen's pace throughout the weekend and lauded the fact that Renault were on a par with BMW again.

"It was a very good performance from Heikki. This is the first race in a long time where we have been competitive with BMW, and it felt like we were back racing properly again. There were no mistakes this afternoon, and the team did a very strong job all weekend. We can go to Monza and Spa feeling more optimistic after this performance."

 

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