Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug has added weight to McLaren's defence of Heikki Kovalainen amid suggestions that the Finn is to under threat of being replaced by Nico Rosberg next season.

The German was a potential target for the Woking team after it became clear that Fernando Alonso would not remain on board for 2008, but opted to sign a lengthy deal with Williams instead. However, it is understood that that contract contains a get-out clause should the Grove team not return to the top four of the constructors' championship, prompting speculation that McLaren may get its man after all.

The rumours were dismissed by McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh on the eve of the German Grand Prix, and Haug also sprang to Kovalainen's defence during the Friday press conference at Hockenheim after the Finn's position was again questioned in light of his disappointing British GP result.

"He was quick," Haug said of his charge, "You saw the fuel load in Silverstone when he did his first pole position. He has the speed. These are small details, but I think, in the rain, he was just struggling a little bit with the rear end of his car and, if you do not have the full confidence under these circumstances, then you are just history.

"But, if you can beat everybody with a comparable fuel load by quite a margin, as in Silverstone, you need to be a very good racing driver and that's what I think Heikki is.

"[The misfortune] started with the safety car in Melbourne, then he had an accident in Barcelona which wasn't his fault. He also had a cut tyre in Turkey, [so] there were a lot of opportunities where he could have scored more points. But this is the name of the game.

"We inside the team know that he is a great driver, a great guy and an absolute team player, like Lewis, [and] I think that helps us a lot. The team is very balanced, very focused, very determined and this is very, very positive."

Moreover, Paddock Talk has suggested that McLaren is close to renewing Kovalainen's contract for 2009 by taking up its option on him.

Haug was also complimentary about Hamilton, meanwhile, after the 23-year-old pulled off one of the performances of the season to win the rain-soaked British Grand Prix after weeks of negative coverage in the media.

"I see a positive," the burly German commented, "You cannot continue like he started [in 2007] - it is a big, big surprise when you come into F1 and do nine podiums in a row. In fairness, the tenth race last year was the N?rburgring, if you remember, when he had a problem with the wheel gun. It was not Lewis's problem otherwise, speed-wise, he could have continued, the potential was there.

"I just think that the statistics say it all. He has done 26 races so far - in 13, he was first or second, and three or four times he was third. That's 16 times on the podium in 26 races. I think, if you only have ten races where you did not finish on the podium, that is quite remarkable.

"Of course he is criticised, of course he is observed in a very special way, but I think he reacted brilliantly at Silverstone, and we know that he can do it. If he had not delivered at Silverstone, then he would have delivered here, or in the next race. I think that is what a good team is about - that you support each other. Of course, he's made some mistakes, like in Canada, but he will learn from them. But his statistics after one-and-a-half years of F1 are just brilliant."