Heikki Kovalainen has tipped his former teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso to be the two men who will be battling it out for the World Championship this year. The Finn spent two years alongside Hamilton at McLaren, having taken the seat vacated by Alonso at the end of 2007, and he has installed them as his favorites for overall glory this year.
"My guess is that it is between Lewis and Alonso – but I don't know how Mercedes GP will get on with Michael [Schumacher] and Nico [Rosberg]," the new Lotus driver told AUTOSPORT. "They might have a very good car and it will be interesting to see how the drivers get on, and Jenson – how he finds McLaren and how that starts to work out there and how the races are going. But my gut feeling is that it is between Lewis and Alonso.
"But it doesn't matter to me too much, to be honest. If Lotus has a quick enough car, then hopefully we will be there! But I think that is a bit unrealistic, and certainly I am not expecting it. If we are able to build a car that is at the front of the grid just like that, then something is wrong. Other teams must have done something really bad, or it is not realistic. That is my feeling what is going to happen at the front."
Kovalainen is excited about the prospect of racing with Schumacher once again, having had some famous triumphs against the seven-time title winner in the Race of Champions.
"Yeah, I've beaten him twice, actually," he said. "I beat him in the final when I won the event, and then one year we were in a semi-final and he stalled his Fiat Abarth Super 2000 on the start line – and I lapped him and managed to overtake him on the track. So, I am claiming that it is 2-0 for me!
"He might have the upper hand this year, but it will be interesting to see how he gets on. It will be interesting for the sport he is coming back, hopefully we get more fans – all his fans – coming back, and get more crowds to the races. We need to get more people coming to the races. We need to get more full grandstands, like we had some races toward the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how his pace compares to the guys who aren't strong at the moment.
"My feeling is that he will be strong. He wouldn't be coming back if he didn't feel he was up for it – but he is 41 years old. The reactions are getting slower, and physically he must have some handicap. But his bar is very high.
"Like I said, if he didn't think he would be strong enough to fight for the championship, then I don't think he would have bothered coming back."