McLaren are reportedly nearing a decision on who will race alongside Lewis Hamilton in 2008, after narrowing down their choice to just two drivers.

Previously it had been understood that the Woking-based outfit's test-driver Pedro de la Rosa, Renault refugee Heikki Kovalainen and Hamilton's erstwhile F3 Euroseries team-mate and sparring partner Adrian Sutil were all under consideration for the drive, but the former has hinted the selection process has now been refined even further, with the Finn emerging as the man most likely.

"Right now two people are up for the seat," de la Rosa told Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, "and I guess we will soon know who the second driver will be, in less than a week.

"If they are taking their time, it is because they are thinking hard about it, although if it was up to me the decision would have been made already.

"Last year with the signing of Fernando Alonso, I knew it would be very difficult for me to race because it would have meant two Spanish drivers, but this year it would be easier. The positive thing is I've already had two years' of testing the car and I know it well.

"I prefer to be cautious and not get my hopes up, though. There were a lot of candidates initially and now there are not that many. I guess everything will be known in a week. So far only one Spanish driver has been confirmed [to race in F1 next year], but it would be fantastic to have three [on the grid]."

McLaren, however, seem to be swaying more towards the direction of Kovalainen, the 26-year-old former GP2 vice-champion who impressed during his maiden season in the top flight with Renault in 2007, including finishing a superb second to Hamilton in the treacherous, rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix.

"I think Heikki looks like a very interesting driver", McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh told The Guardian newspaper today.

Ironically, having ceded his position at Renault to the returning Alonso, should Kovalainen move the other way it would mark the second time in as many years he has stepped into the Spaniard's seat. Should he not get the McLaren role, he has also been linked with Toyota, where he would likely replace Jarno Trulli.

 

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