Lotus has confirmed that is has secured the services of Caterham reserve driver, Heikki Kovalainen, to drive in place of Kimi Räikkönen for the final two Grands Prix of the 2013 season.
With Räikkönen’s absence ahead of this weekend confirmed – due to back surgery – Lotus had to move quickly to find a suitable replacement ahead of this weekend’s race in Texas.
After being knocked back by both Nico Hülkenberg and Michael Schumacher, the Enstone team weighed up whether to promote its own reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, or find another driver who perhaps had the experience necessary to help it challenge Ferrari for third place in the Constructors’ Championship standings over the final two races.
Lotus currently sits fourth in the Constructors’ Championship standings, 26 points behind Ferrari, who it has consistently outscored since the final flyaway races commenced at the end of the September.
“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,” Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said in reference to the decision-making process.
“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.”
“We were asked by Lotus F1 Team if we could release Heikki from his contract with us for the final two races of 2013 and we are pleased that we can help to give him the chance to race again in 2013. He is a valued member of the Caterham family and we’re sure that he’ll do a good job in the USA and Brazil,” Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul concurred in a separate media release.
For Kovalainen, this will be his first race outing since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, after which he was dropped from Caterham’s race line-up as is took on the well-funded Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi for the 2013 season.
With their CT03 challenger proving uncompetitive, Kovalainen was brought back into the fold as the team’s reserve driver, driving in six Friday practice sessions to-date and performing countless hours of simulator work to help improve the car. The 32-year-old is regarded as a contender for a return to Caterham’s race line-up next year.
“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,” Kovalainen said following Lotus’ announcement.
“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 for allowing me to take advantage of it.”