Heikki Kovalainen will fill in for fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus for the final two races of 2013, the team confirmed today in a statement on the Lotus F1 Team website.
Kovalainen has been released from his contract with Caterham for the remainder of the season so that he can compete for Lotus. He had been assisting with the development of this year’s Caterham car by taking part in Friday practice sessions for the team.
When Raikkonen announced last week that he would not be available for the final two races of the season, Lotus had to scramble to find the most competitive driver possible to fill Raikkonen’s vacant seat. In particular, Lotus needed a driver who could help them in their quest to take second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Among the drivers approached were Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who turned down the offer so that he could see out his season with Sauber, and retired seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, who was disinclined to make a second comeback to the sport he dominated so thoroughly a decade ago.
Kovalainen is an experienced and highly rated driver, which explains his appeal for Lotus. They approached Kovalainen and Caterham and it was arranged that Kovalainen would be able to return to the grid with Lotus this weekend in Austin, Texas.
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier explained the decision to put Kovalainen in Raikkonen’s car:
“Obviously we had to move quickly following the news of Kimi’s non-participation in the final two races of this season, and we found ourselves facing a difficult decision in terms of who should take the wheel in Austin and São Paulo. On the one hand we had our reserve driver Davide Valsecchi – who is a talented young driver that has shown a great deal of promise – and on the other we had the opportunity to bring in a seasoned Formula 1 competitor in Heikki.
“Whilst we have every faith in Davide’s abilities, we are obviously involved in a tight Constructors’ Championship battle, so it was decided that the experience Heikki could bring to the team would be invaluable as we aim to finish the year in the best position possible. We must thank Tony Fernandes and Caterham F1 Team for their professional conduct in allowing Heikki to join us for the final races of this season.”
Kovalainen expressed his enthusiasm for the task he faces in the next two weeks:
“It is a fantastic opportunity for me to join Lotus F1 Team for the final two races of 2013. We’ve seen this year that the E21 is a car which can win races and finish on the podium, so I will be pushing hard for the best results possible. Jumping into a car so late in the year when you have not been competing in the races all season will be a challenge, but I know the team at Enstone well so I have no concerns about getting up to speed. This is a great opportunity for me, so I would like to thank Tony Fernandes and Caterham F1 Team for allowing me to take advantage of it.”
To date, Kovalainen has competed in 110 Grands Prix and has scored one victory, four podiums and one pole position. He will be in a competitive car again this weekend for the first time since he left McLaren at the end of 2009 and will be looking to make the most of the opportunity to score points again in Formula One.
At the end of 2009, Heikki Kovalainen left McLaren, where he had won a race and featured on the podium three times, to join the all-new Lotus team, and suddenly found himself at the back of the field in a car that was not capable of points.
Fast forward to now, and the team has changed its name to Caterham, but has still scored no points and does not look likely to do so this season, unless the cars in front prove to be particularly unreliable. Significant progress has been made in closing the gap to the midfield, but for the time being the gap remains. Nonetheless, Kovalainen has spent his time at Caterham pushing to the limit, extracting every last bit of performance from the car in an attempt to get results. And his efforts have not gone unnoticed – as the Finn approaches the end of his contract with Caterham, there are rumours that he may be signed by a big team, perhaps McLaren or Ferrari.
Kovalainen left McLaren on good terms, and so a return to Woking is not impossible. With Lewis Hamilton looking more and more likely to leave the team, the probability of there being a seat available is steadily increasing, and Kovalainen’s name has been mentioned in the media as a possible replacement.
No seat has been the subject of more speculation than that of Felipe Massa at Ferrari. Every driver wants to race for the famous Italian team, and it has looked likely for some time that Massa will be replaced. Last week, Finnish television company MTV3 claimed that Kovalainen’s management had been summoned to Maranello to discuss a 2013 drive.
Whatever happens for Kovalainen next season, his efforts are clearly paying off. He is easily the most talked about driver in a “new” team (Caterham, Marussia and HRT), which is a direct result of his performance on the track. When he was at McLaren in 2008-2009, he was perhaps lacking a bit of experience. Three years developing a team like Caterham have given him time to mature as a driver. It is about time he had a chance to get back in a quick car and show what he can do.
Vitaly Petrov had his career saved by Caterham, after he lost his drive at Renault (this year’s Lotus). Two seasons with Renault had yielded mixed results, and by the end the Russian had not quite proven himself at the top level. Now a race driver with Caterham, he has another chance to show what he can do.
2011 started well for Petrov, with a podium in Australia. The Renault R31 had a strong start to the season and Petrov duly capitalised. As the season progressed and the car fell off the pace, however, there were no particular shows of brilliance from the Russian driver. Perhaps he was a little out of his depth in a team that was still reeling from losing lead driver Robert Kubica to injury. Petrov had two team-mates at Renault last season, neither of whom provided a good basis for comparison. Nick Heidfeld drove for the first half of 2011, but did not deliver the results the team was looking for and was replaced by the relatively inexperienced Bruno Senna.
Caterham provides a different challenge for Petrov. New team-mate Heikki Kovalainen has been with the team since it entered Formula One in 2010. As such, he has had a lot of time to get to know the team and how it works. Kovalainen has been the benchmark in the team, consistently outpacing team-mate Jarno Trulli. In Kovalainen, Petrov now has a strong team-mate. He will certainly be measured against Kovalainen.
The great drivers often show themselves in under-performing cars. Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996, Senna at McLaren in 1993 and Alonso at Ferrari in 2011 are all good examples of how to out-drive the car. In 2011, Petrov had a solid midfield car. In 2012, the same might not be true. While the relative pace of the cars is largely unknown at this stage, it can be safely assumed that Caterham willl not be fighting for podiums at the beginning of the season. So Petrov has a chance to show what he can do in a car that is perhaps not quite as quick as what he is used to.
Petrov has been labeled a “pay-driver” because he brings with him extensive sponsorship. It’s not a tag that any driver wants, and he will be keen to shed it in 2012. Some decent results and, perhaps more importantly, consistency could help him to establish himself firmly as a quality driver. In Melbourne in a week’s time, the challenge begins.
Michael Schumacher topped the time sheets on the second day of pre-season testing at Jerez, Spain. The seven-time World Champion completed 132 laps with a fastest time of 1m18.561s, more than a second faster than yesterday’s quickest lap by Kimi Raikkonen.
Heikki Kovalainen made up for Caterham’s limited running yesterday by completing 139 laps today, more than any other driver. It was a significant day for Caterham, as KERS was used for the first time on the CT01. The team formerly known as Lotus did not use KERS in 2011.
Kovalainen was upbeat, saying: “I feel very happy with the work we have completed today. Yesterday we had a problem that was nothing to do with the car so today was our first real day of testing and we had a trouble free day, completing most of what we wanted to on day one and day two and working through a variety of setup changes. We ran on each of the tyre compounds and I’m really starting to get a feel for the car. Basically it’s good news because it confirms what I thought yesterday. This car is a lot better than the 2011 car, it’s quicker and everything works as we want it to. We’ve made very solid progress and I feel really good physically, so I think there’s a lot more to come.”
The day was mostly without incident. Kimi Raikkonen had a couple of off-track excursions, the first of which brought out the red flag while marshals cleaned gravel off the track. There was only one other stoppage, when some loose concrete was removed from behind a kerb.
Raikkonen entertained with some aggressive driving throughout the day, and Schumacher gave an overtaking masterclass when he ended up behind other cars at several points in the afternoon.
Today was the last day of the first test for HRT, who will bring their 2012 car to the second test in Barcelona in two weeks time. They ran their 2011 car for two days in order to gather data on the new Pirelli tyres. All of the other teams, except Marussia, will be in action again tomorrow morning.
Laptimes for the day are as follows:
|1||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes W02||1m18.561s||132|
|2||Mark Webber||Red Bull RB8||1m19.184s||97|
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso STR7||1m19.587s||100|
|4||Jules Bianchi||Force India VJM05||1m20.221s||46|
|5||Kimi Raikkonen||Lotus E20||1m20.239s||117|
|6||Paul di Resta||Force India VJM05||1m20.272s||69|
|7||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F2012||1m20.454s||95|
|8||Jenson Button||McLaren MP4-27||1m20.688s||85|
|9||Sergio Perez||Sauber C31||1m20.711s||106|
|10||Pastor Maldonado||Williams FW34||1m21.197s||97|
|11||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham CT01||1m21.518s||139|
|12||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT F111||1m22.128s||64|