Kovalainen joins McLaren

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/k/kovalainen_ap.jpg' class='caption'> Heikki Kovalainen has replaced Fernando Alonso on McLaren's team for next season's Formula One season.

Updated: December 17, 2007 10:07 IST
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Heikki Kovalainen has replaced Fernando Alonso on McLaren's team for next season's Formula One season.

The Finn effectively swaps places with Alonso, who has moved to Renault.

McLaren announced the appointment on Friday and said Kovalainen will begin practicing with the team in January.

Kovalainen will team up with Lewis Hamilton, who finished second in the 2007 drivers' championship behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikonnen. Kovalainen finished seventh.

McLaren is hoping for a trouble-free 2008 season after fallouts between Alonso and Hamilton and also having all its constructors' points taken away in the aftermath of a spying scandal. McLaren was also fined a record $100 million in September by the world governing body's World Motorsport Council for unauthorized possession of confidential Ferrari materials.

"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," Kovalainen said. "It's up to me to build relationships with the team and the people around me, and I know everybody is excited about me joining, so I don't think that will be a problem at all."

Hamilton, who led the championship standings until he placed seventh in the final race in Brazil, said he welcomed Kovalainen onto the team.

"I am really looking forward to 2008 and working with Heikki as my teammate," the British driver said. "Together with the team, we will do everything we can to ensure that our championship challenge is as strong and focused as possible."

McLaren's chief operating officer Martin Whitmarsh said the team looked at other drivers but opted for Kovelainen.

"We had a number of options open to us and as always we want to make sure that we have the most competitive driver lineup, and I think that Lewis and Heikki will be a formidable combination," he said.

"Both enjoyed great rookie seasons in 2007 and share a genuine passion for winning and being the best. Heikki made a strong impression and Lewis' performance so far has been outstanding and speaks for itself. I am confident that they will push each other on track and work well together off track."

Kovelainen is the third Finn to drive for McLaren, after Mika Hakkinen and Raikkonen.

"As a Finn it's an honor for me to follow in Mika and Kimi's footsteps," he said.

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