INTERVIEW-Motor racing-Kovalainen wants testing ban scrapped
*McLaren's Kovalainen would like in-season testing restored
*Finn says ban contributed to hard season for big F1 teams
By Paul Virgo
ROME, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Formula One's in-season testing ban has made life difficult for the sport's big teams, McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen said on Tuesday.
"As a driver I'd prefer to get the testing back," the Finn told Reuters in an interview. "I'm a Formula One driver and I want to drive the car. That's the best part of the job."
Kovalainen said the ban had made it impossible for McLaren and Ferrari to catch up in time to mount a challenge after the effects of last year's close race left them lagging behind Red Bull and championship leaders Brawn.
"The fight last year went on very late so all the top teams -- us, Ferrari and BMW -- had to (continue to) develop the car until very late into the season," he said ahead of Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza. "This compromised the work for this year.
"The testing ban is a big factor because teams like us and Ferrari would have been able to catch up quicker if we'd had more testing.
"Quite a lot of work had to be done in the factory, which is not always as accurate as when you go on the race track.
"We're doing a lot of testing on Fridays, which is compromising our set-up work a little.
"I think it's the same with other teams which is why the season has been a bit silly, up and down."
Kovalainen said he appreciated the ban was a cost-cutting measure imposed to show the sport was responding to tough economic times but he hoped other measures could be found instead.
"You have to find a balance with the difficult circumstances; you have to do something," he said. "For me the ideal situation would be that we wouldn't limit the driving, we would limit other things."
Kovalainen would not rule out another season full of surprises next year but said he was confident McLaren would be a contender after some good recent showings, with his team mate Lewis Hamilton winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in July.
"I think next year is an unknown," he said. "Things are incredibly competitive in Formula One now. I don't want to make any predictions but I'm sure McLaren will be strong. We've already made big improvements with the car."
He said his relationship with world champion Hamilton was a mutually beneficial one.
"I'm in a good position in the team. I feel strong," he said. "At the moment Lewis and I are getting on really well. We try to push the team forward. For sure I've learned from Lewis and I also think he's probably learned from me."
Kovalainen was speaking at Rome's Vallelunga track at the eSafety Challenge, an International Automobile Federation (FIA) sponsored event to promote greater use of safety technology in road cars.
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