New McLaren recruit Heikki Kovalainen has vowed to work flat-out between now and the beginning of the 2008 Formula 1 campaign to ensure he is in the best possible shape for the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix, despite having only been signed up by the team less than a month ago.

The Finn recovered from a shaky start to his rookie year in the top flight with Renault in 2007 to become the Enstone-based concern's standard-bearer from mid-season onwards, impressing many with his speed, composed maturity and on-track finesse, particularly in his superb drive to second place in the rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix, fending off the advances of countryman Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in the race's closing stages. Now, he is well aware, he has really been given a chance to make his mark on the sport.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for me," he enthused at the launch of the new MP4-23 in the auspicious surroundings of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. "Driving for McLaren-Mercedes is a big step for my career. So far I've been very impressed with what I've seen of the factory at Woking, and it's obvious everyone is very motivated to return to the top. I will do the absolute maximum to make sure I'm prepared before the first race of the season and do the best job I can.

"That's something I really need to work on between here and Melbourne; I already started the day after I signed the contract, getting to know everybody and how the team works. It's something I need to focus on a bit more than Lewis - he's almost on auto-pilot as he knows how the team works, but by the time we get to Melbourne I should be up-to-speed and fully integrated within the team."

Kovalainen is evidently relishing the prospect of going up against Lewis Hamilton, who stunned the F1 paddock in 2007 by coming desperately close to clinching the drivers' laurels in his maiden campaign. He also praised the contribution of test-drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett in the development of the new machine, whilst brushing off any suggestions Hamilton would be afforded greater status within the squad given his long-standing relationship with McLaren.

"I would not have come to a team if I didn't think I had an equal chance to fight for the championship," the 26-year-old asserted, "and at McLaren I have that. We don't know yet how the season is going to go, but to start with I have an exact equal opportunity to what Lewis has. It's up to me to build a relationship with the team and make it as strong as I can.

"Surely we are both very competitive, and I will do everything I can to beat Lewis on the track. He had a great season last year and showed he can win a world championship though, so it's not going to be easy!

"We need to push the team forward together, and at the end of the day, whatever happens in the races, I think we will get on well off the track."

 

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