Kovalainen fills McLaren hole

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The Independent Online

The last significant Formula One seat for 2008 has has been filled with Heikki Kovalainen replacing Fernando Alonso at McLaren as Lewis Hamilton's partner. The Finn effectively swaps places with Alonso, who has moved to Renault.

McLaren announced the appointment yesterday and said Kovalainen, who finished seventh in last year's championship, will begin practising with the team in January. McLaren is hoping for a trouble-free 2008 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 $100m (49m) in September by the world governing body's World Motorsport Council for unauthorised 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 joining the team. "I am really looking forward to 2008 and working with Heikki as my team-mate," he said.

"Together with the team, we will do everything we can to ensure 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 I think that Lewis and Heikki will be a formidable combination," he said.

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