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Full throttle in Eau Rouge: Kovalainen’s crazy bet with Hamilton

There are good reasons why Lewis is so outstanding,”says Heikki Kovalainen. He claims to know her, after all, he was Hamilton’s teammate at McLaren for two years. Looking back, he insists: “Lewis has an incredible fighting spirit.”

How seriously Hamilton himself takes small things that have been shown at the Belgian Grand Prix 2009 in spa, Kovalainen reports.” It was right before the first training, when Lewis came up to me and said, “Would you like to make a bet? Who drives faster on the out-Lap through Eau Rouge!’ And then one Friday morning it wasn’t so easy.”

Kovalainen admitted that both McLaren drivers went on the route and Kovalainen found out shortly afterwards:”He had just stopped, drove straight through Eau Rouge in the first round with full throttle. I had a little magnifying glass in it, and so I lost the bet.”

The Eau Rouge bet as a key moment

Later that moment he realized he could not take it up with Hamilton. I realized that I would never win [the team rally], says Kovalainen. In fact, in his two McLaren years, he clearly lagged behind Hamilton.

That is what makes Kovalainen very particular about Hamilton’s driving style. The main theme that I had trouble keeping up with was the brake zones,”he says today.”The brake zones Lewis was able to brake later and harder, but hit the split point of the curve and its exit just as well as I did. And: He was more gentle with the tires.”

Kovalainen claims to have often talked to his engineers about the special Hamilton style of driving. I was told that [my driving style] was similar to that of Fernando [Alonso], Kimi [Riding King] and Mika [Hakkinen], by taking a lot of speed into the curve. Lewis, on the other hand, directs the car sharply and straightens it up earlier.”

Why Kovalainen despaired of Hamilton

He himself was quite desperate about it.” I was able to keep up with him in quick passages. It wasn’t that hard,”says Kovalainen.”I’m sorry. But in the brake zones and in slow turns, Lewis is just very good. He seems to have special sensors in his butt, so he can go to the limit more than anyone else.”

That’s also why he never managed to really put Hamilton in trouble, Kovalainen says and adds: “Maybe that’s why we got along so well.”

He often felt lost on Hamilton’s side: “He was always a bit faster. I had to stretch out in every unit. Average just wasn’t enough. And if you do that for a year and a half, you will eventually run out of energy.”

Why Kovalainen still has no regrets

The result from Kovalainen’s point of view:”It annoyed me, because [mid-2009] the distance was still greater and I made mistakes because I ran over the car. I have no problem admitting that. Lewis was just constantly a little faster than me.”

Bottom line, Kovalainen’s Formula One career had a lasting impact.” At this point in my career, it did a lot of damage,”he says. Still, I’m glad I drove alongside Lewis, because he’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, drivers of all. And after McLaren, Kovalainen didn’t get any points at all in formula 1: He switched to Newcomer Lotus in the season 2010 (later Caterham) and in three years only afterwards. At the end of his Grand Prix career, he started 2013 two more races for Lotus (Renault), but also missed the top 10.

Kovalainen had made a real difference for the first time, when he won the single in Paris at the Race of Champions, including Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Loeb. 2005, behind Nico Rosberg, he was second overall in the GP2, 2007, giving the 39-year-old his formula-1 debut for Renault. He won his only Grand Prix victory for McLaren.