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Kovalainen joins McLaren
December 15, 2007 18:29 IST
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen will race for McLaren next year in a straight swap with double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso [Images], who has taken his place at Renault.
Mercedes-powered McLaren confirmed in a statement on Friday that the Finn will replace the Spaniard alongside 22-year-old Briton Lewis Hamilton [Images], this year's overall runner-up in his rookie season.
Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, who had hoped to fill the vacancy, will remain as McLaren's reserve driver while Briton Gary Paffett will also be available to help with testing when required.
McLaren have had three previous Finnish drivers in world champions Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen [Images]. Kovalainen, 26, said he is honoured to follow in their footsteps.
"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," he said in the statement.
"As a Finn, it's an honour for me to follow in Mika and Kimi'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," he added.
McLaren said the Finn, who took a fine second place in this year's Japanese Grand Prix in a difficult rookie season at Renault, has signed a long-term contract. No financial details were given.
Kovalainen was runner-up in the GP2, the support series Hamilton won last year, to Germany's [Images] Nico Rosberg in 2005.
"We had a number of options open to us," commented McLaren's chief operating officer Martin Whitmarsh. "I think that Lewis and Heikki will be a formidable combination.
"I am confident that they will push each other on track and work well together off track."
Hamilton, winner of four races this year in a record-breaking rookie season, said he looked forward to working with his new team mate with the new car scheduled to run for the first time in Jerez in the second week of January.
Kovalainen said he is not worried about Hamilton's exceptionally close relationship with the team, who have backed the Briton for the past decade, and believed he would also have a chance to win the championship next year.
"It's up to me to build relationships with the team and the people around me," he said.
"I know they will work so hard to give me the best opportunity. Also after the 2007 season, I don't think there can be any doubt that the team is totally committed to equality amongst its drivers."
Alonso's relationship with McLaren foundered after the team refused to favour him over his rookie team mate, who ended up beating him in the championship.
The Spaniard also fell foul of team management amid the fallout of a spying controversy that ended with McLaren fined $100 million and stripped of all their constructors' points for having Ferrari [Images] data.
"I am employed to drive the car and am not a political animal at all," said Kovalainen. "There was obviously a lot going on in 2007 but it's not for me to talk about.
"It's not for me to judge what went wrong with Fernando and the team and I am really not interested."
The McLaren seat was the last remaining vacancy at a top team, with only Force India and struggling Super Aguri still to confirm their 2008 drivers.
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