Heikki Kovalainen has been officially confirmed as a McLaren-Mercedes driver for 2008, stepping into Fernando Alonso's seat for the second year in succession.

The Finn previously replaced the Spaniard at Renault for the 2007 campaign - his debut season in the top flight - and impressed by both outscoring and outperforming highly-experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella en route to seventh spot in the drivers' standings, including joining new team-mate Lewis Hamilton up on the rostrum following a stirring drive to the runner-up spot in the rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji.

"I am so excited to join a team like Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes," Kovalainen enthused, on becoming the third Finn to move to the Woking-based outfit in recent years. "So far I have been blown away by the dedication and commitment to winning which is clear through the entire organisation, and I am really excited about our joint future.

"As a Finn it's an honour for me to follow in Mika (Hakkinen) and Kimi (Raikkonen's) footsteps. I haven't really spent a lot of time with Lewis so far, but from what I know I think we will work well together and do our best for the team."

The 26-year-old has agreed an unspecified long-term contract with the British squad. CEO Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged much consideration had gone into determining McLaren's final 2008 line-up, which will retain Pedro de la Rosa as third driver as well as Gary Paffett, who will continue to assist the Spaniard with the testing programme when required.

"We had a number of options open to us," Whitmarsh confirmed. "As always we want to make sure we have the most competitive driver line-up, and I think Lewis and Heikki will be a formidable combination. Both enjoyed great rookie seasons in 2007 and share a genuine passion for winning and being the best.

"Heikki made a strong impression, and Lewis' performance so far has been outstanding and speaks for itself. I am confident they will push each other on-track and work well together off-track. In addition, with Pedro remaining our primary test-driver alongside Gary, we really have a strong package and look forward to 2008."

"Heikki is a talented driver who showed his skills during his debut season in Formula 1 this year," agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "Heikki's most impressive performance was in the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, where he finished second behind Lewis in extremely treacherous wet conditions. He is not only a quick driver but also one of the most consistent, having finished in every grand prix except the last which puts him in the top five, together with our drivers who covered the most laps in 2007.

"Everybody in the team is looking forward to a very fruitful co-operation. Lewis and Heikki will form one of the youngest driver line-ups, and I am convinced both will be very strong and at the same time co-operative competitors."

Hamilton enjoyed the most successful rookie season in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship this year, courtesy of four victories, six pole positions and an incredible run of nine consecutive podiums in his first nine races. With testing of McLaren's 2008 MP4-23 challenger scheduled to begin at Jerez during the second week of January, the 22-year-old is already eagerly anticipating his sophomore campaign in the uppermost echelon.

"As soon as the chequered flag went in Brazil I began to count down the days until Australia," he confessed. "I am really looking forward to 2008 and working with Heikki as my team-mate. Together with the team we will do everything we can to ensure that our championship challenge is as strong and focused as possible.

"My first year in Formula 1 was incredible, and I was so fortunate to spend it with Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes. I hope Heikki will enjoy his first year with the team as much as I did mine."

 

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