After bouncing back from his horrific high-speed accident in the Spanish Grand Prix just two weeks ago, Heikki Kovalainen has joked that maybe getting hit on the head there was a positive thing - as he stormed to the maiden front row start of his Formula 1 career in Istanbul this weekend.

Kovalainen was knocked unconscious after his McLaren-Mercedes became embedded deep in the Circuit de Catalunya's turn nine tyre barriers, following a wheel rim failure that led to a puncture and rendered the Finn a mere passenger as his car ploughed head-on into the gravel trap at unabated speed.

Though some wondered whether he would be able to compete in Turkey a fortnight later, the man himself answered those questions in style in qualifying around the physically demanding Istanbul Park circuit - by planting his MP4-23 firmly on the front row of the grid, alongside track specialist Felipe Massa in the Ferrari and ahead of McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, making it three-two in their personal battle this year.

"Maybe it was good to get hit on the head in Barcelona," the 26-year-old quipped afterwards, "but I very much doubt that, to be honest! It has been a rollercoaster the last couple of weeks. I was very lucky to survive the accident without any injuries, and my recovery has been fantastic.

"I have to say many thanks to the medical people in Spain, and then when I got back to Finland I did some medical check-ups there and I did some training as well. I went to a special sports institute [and] worked with specialists who help people recover from head injuries, and they all did a great job. They knew exactly where we were going, and I was increasing my physical training and fitness training all the time to make sure my body could take the stress.

"Three days after the accident I felt my headache go away. By then, I had done all the scans in Spain, all the checks for my neck and head and everything that was affected by the impact, and we knew I didn't have any physical injuries. There were no injuries to the head, just a headache which was normal. If someone hits you on the head with a baseball bat I'm sure you would have a headache for three days at least!

"Already at the end of last week I was feeling back to normal and this week I have been able to do normal physical preparation, if anything a bit tougher, just to test the body and make sure that there are no headaches or effects from the impact.

"I've felt very happy all the way through the weekend here, and the most important thing is that arriving here I knew I wouldn't have any problem passing the medical because I felt 100 per cent fit. I would have not turned up here if I didn't think I was in full health and fitness.

"I am very pleased to be here, and the fact that I didn't get any physical injuries in the accident really shows what the FIA has done in the past [and] how they have improved safety. All I have to do is thank those people who have been putting their effort into work on that. Having said that, there is still more to do and I think everybody should look into that more and more."

There was praise for Kovalainen, meanwhile, from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis and the Woking-based concern's team doctor Aki Hintsa, with the former describing his young charge's recovery as 'remarkable'.

"I'm extremely pleased and extremely happy but not extremely surprised," added Hintsa. "Sometimes something like this can give you a kick - it's all about turning the event into positive energy."

Kovalainen admitted that he had been just a little bit tentative during his first few laps in the car during Friday practice, but if he had any fear he certainly did not let it show as he immediately lapped a strong second-quickest in the morning practice session - before going on to repeat that feat a day later in qualifying.

"For the first corners perhaps I was a little bit more nervous than normal and feeling a little bit how everything is," he reflected, "but after that I could feel that I didn't have any side-effects; everything seemed to be functioning like normal. Straightaway I felt it was okay and after that I just tried to attack the maximum I could.

"It's just been business as usual. No one in our team has asked 'how do you feel?' I told them after the installation lap everything's fine, let's get on with it, and since then it's been normal set-up work and trying to make the most out of the car and get everything up-to-speed.

"This is one of the circuits that I really like. I've always enjoyed driving around here, so I was very much looking forward to coming here. This week already yesterday I felt very happy with my car and I have been feeling confident all the time.

"I think qualifying went quite well. Coming to Q3, the first lap was a bit all over the place, not very clean, but the second lap was much tidier and everything came together. It is a pleasure to start from the front row - it would be better to be on pole, then you would be happier, but it's better to be second than behind.

"Hopefully tomorrow we can have a good race from this position. It's my best starting position in Formula 1, so it's looking good at the moment."

Indeed it is, and better news still for Kovalainen and third-placed Hamilton is that McLaren seem finally to be pegging back arch-rivals Ferrari's advantage - in qualifying at least - after the scarlet machines have threatened to run away with proceedings for much of the 2008 campaign to-date. He acknowledged, however, that tyre choice - over which he and Hamilton differed in the final, crucial phase of qualifying - would be critical, as would the start, given that he is beginning the grand prix from the dirtier side of the grid.

"I can't change the sides anymore, so I just have to try to make the most of it," he underlined. "Anyway, we are near the front of the grid, so there's no reason to worry about it too much.

"It looks like we are closer but having said that, we know the Ferraris are always going to be strong, whether it's in qualifying or the race or free practice or whatever. Even the other teams are going to be strong, so I think the fact is that we cannot take anything for granted and we just have to push everything to the maximum."