On the Outside Looking In: Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen looks ever increasingly likely to miss out on a 2013 Formula 1 seat despite impressing at Caterham over the past few seasons. Its a shame for a former grand prix winner to be ousted from his drive, probably for a pay driver.  Whether or not the comments made by Mike Gascoyne are correct or not doesn’t make it any less of a shame to not see the popular Finn on the grid.

Having advanced from British Formula 3, he spent two years in World Series by Nissan, finishing second and then first in the championship, winning 7 races along the way.  This paved the way for a drive with Arden International in GP2, and a season long duel with Nico Rosberg, who pipped him to the title.

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Kovalainen made his Formula 1 debut for the Renault team in 2007 having spent a year at the team in 2006 as their third driver, running in numerous practice sessions when teams were allowed to run a third car during free practice 1.  His debut season started slowly and Flavio Briatore was unsure on whether he belonged in Formula 1.  However a strong finish to the season, including a fine second place finish in the very wet Fuji race, lead to McLaren taking him on for 2008, replacing Fernando Alonso.

As Lewis Hamilton’s teammate he was always going be under pressure driving for the British team. A podium in his second race was a good start, but he wasn’t a championship contender.  He did grab his first pole position in Silverstone, and won the Hungarian Grand Prix after long time leader Felipe Massa dropped out near the end.  Only one future podium in 2008 lead to seventh in the championship with 53 points.  2009 however was a write off.  In a car even Hamilton struggled in, he never reached the podium and only got 22 points and 12th in the table.

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When Lotus entered Formula 1 in 2010, they needed an experienced line-up, and they plucked for Heikki alongside Jarno Trulli.  However it was clear from early on that the three new teams were not on the pace of the established runners.  However He was by far the most impressive.  He may not have scored points, but he finished a season high of 12th in Japan, enabling Lotus to finish 10th in the championship and get extra money for it.  He was beaten in the championship by Trulli in 2011 but it was normally him that would be running higher in races, and would usually be the unlucky driver within the team.

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The team changed their name to Caterham in 2012 but the results were no better.  In fact, he was struggling to keep the Marussia drivers & teammate Vitaly Petrov behind him, and in fact finished the season behind them in the standings.  However midseason, he was linked to drives in bigger teams, including a return to McLaren or even a Ferrari drive.  However neither of these came to fruition.  It also became apparent near the end of the season that Caterham weren’t keeping him.  He would be out of F1.

Mike Gascoyne implied in an interview that it was a shame that Heikki was leaving the team.  However he also was quoted to say:

“Heikki is a very talented driver, but last year his management did not handle him very well and he has not done himself any favours. It is a tough environment out there for everyone. He has had three years with Caterham, was paid well, and he should have shown more respect about that.”

If what Gascoyne said is true, its a shame that Kovalainen & his management team couldn’t have respected Caterham more.  It could have even meant another year at the team to prove himself against a young gun in Charles Pic.  But alas, its not to be.  Yes the Caterham drive is still available, but its common knowledge that the drive will either be given to Vitaly Petrov, Giedo van der Garde or Bruno Senna.  Kovalainen finds himself on the outside looking in.

Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Tuesday 21 February 2012.

So What next for Heikki Kovalainen?  Is this the last we’ll see of the popular Finn?  Can he repair his career that had so much promise? It would not surprise me to see him take up a third driver role with someone in 2013, and if he puts in the effort and impresses them and doesn’t take anything for granted, it could lead to a 2014 race seat.  If he doesn’t get a role in F1 in 2013, then maybe he’ll look elsewhere for a drive, perhaps in America in the Indycar series.

Whatever he does, he needs to put his full attention into it, and then maybe, just maybe, Formula 1 will come calling again.

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