‘It’s not just pure talent’: Ex-Hamilton team-mate tips him to bounce back after abysmal Saudi GP performance

Heikki Kovalainen spent two years racing alongside Sir Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, winning the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Sir Lewis Hamilton’s former McLaren team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, is full of admiration for the Briton having spent two seasons alongside him.

Kovalainen was out-qualified 26 times in 35 races by Hamilton in 2008 and 2009 as the now 37-year-old claimed a world championship and seven wins, including two in their abysmal 2009 campaign.

The Finn’s only victory came at the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix, and he reveals that, while Hamilton is beatable on the odd occasion, it takes an incomprehensible amount of energy to beat him over the course of a season.

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“Occasionally I could match him but over the full season I had to stretch every session to match him,” he told talkSPORT.

“You can only do so much stretching and then you run out of energy and that was the case with me, I didn’t have enough margin in my capacity to do the times and the races that he did, so it was not easy.

“His level of performance is so high that even for super talents like Max [Verstappen] it requires a lot of effort, a lot of focus, a lot of energy, so it’s not going to be easy, not everyone can handle that, it’s as simple as that.”

Hamilton has since gone on to win six more championships with Mercedes, and narrowly missed out on an eighth to Verstappen last year at the end of a thrilling 2021 season.

While it was at the time almost inconceivable that anyone could match Michael Schumacher’s seven titles and 91 wins, the former Super GT and now Rally driver was aware of Hamilton’s prodigious talent.

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“When I was there you wouldn’t have thought that he would beat Michael’s record. But even then everyone knew that he was very good,” he explained.

“He was super talented and dedicated in all kinds of ways that you can measure, he’s right at the top.

“So already then it was obvious then that he was going to be good, he was going to be a world champion one day, it was pretty obvious from a very young age and then it turned out to be the case.”

Kovalainen also emphasised that the Briton’s success is not solely down to his God-given talent, but also his tremendous commitment and unrelenting hard work.

“It’s not just pure talent, there are a lot of talented guys out there, and I think in Lewis the talent and the work combined,” he stated.

“He’s obviously very dedicated and he’s very determined, if he wants something and he sets his sights on something he’s determined to get there.

“That was obvious in everything that he was doing, if you went and played golf he was determined, if he wanted to beat you in anything he could and that’s one of his strengths.”

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It is well documented that the Mercedes driver has had to overcome adversity in his life and career, often being the only black person on the football pitch as a child, and now the only black racing driver in F1.

But the 40-year-old has admiration for the way his former team-mate has overcome all of that to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time in the pinnacle of motorsport.

“I believe that the setbacks that he’s had in his life he’s been super good at dealing with them much more than any other athletes, not just race drivers, he’s very good at turning things around and coming back stronger,” he affirmed.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team have made a dire start to the 2022 season as they seek to find ways to overcome the multitude of issues caused by the new technical regulations, most notably “porpoising.”