McLaren - We've 'rebuilt' Heikki
Finn coming on strong doing things the McLaren way, says Dennis
Team boss Ron Dennis has said that new recruit Heikki Kovalainen is a new man since joining McLaren-Mercedes.
The Finn joined McLaren after a tough start to his Formula One career with Renault, Kovalainen nevertheless improving markedly as his rookie 2007 season progressed.
And, with fifth and third-place finishes already scored in the Australian and Malaysian grands prix, Dennis believes the confidence Kovalainen is gaining since joining McLaren will allow him to push team-mate Lewis Hamilton all the way this year.
"Heikki is a guy who was systematically taken apart last year and we have systematically put him back together again," Dennis told The Daily Telegraph.
"Give him three more races and he will be giving Lewis a real hard time.
"Lewis knows it and they are happy and joking about it. I hope as and when it becomes competitive between the drivers that the harmony keeps on."
While Hamilton's F1 debut at last year's Australian Grand Prix brought a podium visit and overnight fame, Kovalainen's own baptism in the same race brought off-track excursions and a 10th-place finish.
Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore was moved to describe his protege's performance as "rubbish" but, in a car rather less competitive than those with which the team secured back-to-back world titles in 2005 and 2006, Kovalainen fought back.
Proving more than a match for vastly experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, Kovalainen ultimately secured Renault's best result of last season - a fine second place to Hamilton in September's Japanese Grand Prix.
With double world champion Fernando Alonso returning to Renault after his own tenure at McLaren brought tensions with both Hamilton and senior team personnel, Kovalainen was then handed the break of his life late last year.
And, according to Dennis, the 26-year-old was easily the best choice McLaren had when looking for a replacement.
"It is a story about how this guy lost his motivation and was misguided in how he should go about his physical preparation," Dennis said of Kovalainen's time at Renault.
"But credit to (McLaren chief executive) Martin (Whitmarsh) and the guys who analyse all of the potential candidates, going back to lesser formulae.
"We look for the patterns. Where was the driving skill? Who was in the best team?
"When we applied those criteria he (Kovalainen) was miles ahead of any other option.
"Then when we spoke to him you could just see that look which says it is in there if we could just get his self-belief back, get him in a position where he knew what he had to do."