After showing enormous potential in the junior categories, Heikki Kovalainen’s Formula 1 form – as he will readily admit himself – has failed to maintain that career trajectory. Stints with the high-profile Renault and McLaren outfits didn’t deliver, and he’s spent the last two seasons rebuilding his career with Team Lotus, now known as Caterham.
This year, it is expected that the team’s CT01 challenger will deliver the team’s first points’ finish. With Mike Gascoyne heading up the technical side, the car comes equipped with KERS and Red Bull’s rear end design. We spoke with Heikki today in the Caterham hospitality facility, and this is what he had to say…
|Full Name:||Heikki Johannes Kovalainen|
|Born:||19 October 1981, Suomussalmi (FIN)|
|First GP:||2007 Australian Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||2013 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|1999||Finnish Formula A Karting Championship, 2nd overall|
|2000||Finnish Formula A Karting Championship, 2nd overall|
|Nordic Karting Championship, 1st overall|
|Paris-Bercy Elf Masters Karting, 1st overall|
|World Super A Karting Championship, 3rd overall|
|2001||British Formula Renault 2000 Championship, Fortec Motorsport, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 4th overall|
|2002||British Formula 3 Championship, Fortec Motorsport, 5 wins, 12 podiums, 3rd overall|
|Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, Fortec Motorsport, 2nd overall|
|2003||World Series by Nissan, Gabord Competición, 1 win, 4 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2004||World Series by Nissan, Pons Racing, 6 wins, 11 podiums, 1st overall|
|Race of Champions, 1st overall|
|2005||GP2 Series, Arden International, 5 wins, 12 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2006||Formula 1, Renault F1 Team, Test Driver|
|Race of Championship, 2nd overall in Nations Cup with Marcus Grönholm|
|2007||Formula 1, Renault F1 Team R27, 17 races, 1 podium, 30 points, 7th overall|
|2008||Formula 1, McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, 18 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 53 points, 7th overall|
|2009||Formula1, McLaren Mercedes MP4-24, 17 races, 22 points, 12th overall|
|2010||Formula 1, Lotus Racing Cosworth T127, 18 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2011||Formula 1, Team Lotus Renault T128, 19 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2012||Formula 1, Caterham Renault CT01, 20 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2013||Formula 1, Caterham Renault CT03, Test Driver|
|Formula 1, Team Lotus Renault E21, 2 races, 0 point, Not Classified|
You have used the official FIA Drivers’ Photo session to show off a completely new helmet design, making the inspired choice to run an Angry Birds-themed lid. What prompted this change?
Angry Birds is a Finnish company that has a huge brand presence worldwide – it’s actually growing at a rate quicker than Facebook – and we’d been in talks since last year.
I already have a few good Finnish partners with me, and we started talking last year to explore what possibilities there were of teaming up. The idea of the crash helmet design came quite early on, and all parties likes it. It has since progressed into something more formal, and I’m now very happy to announce them as one of my new partners. I think this is a very modern take on our cooperation.
I think it’s very interesting and we go well together: we’re both moving quickly and we both want to get to the top.
One assumes that a few games of Angry Birds might form part of your downtime, and you’re well-known as a keen golfer. What are the other ways you like to occupy your spare time?
I obviously need to keep fit to keep in shape throughout the year and during the off-season, so I spend most of my spare time doing lots of sports to help that: running, cycling, cross-country skiing, and so on.
I don’t really have too many hobbies outside of my time on the golf course.
I try to play some video games from time to time: I have a flight simulator at home, and I obviously play race simulations as well.
I also play the drums. I have some friends in the music industry and I try to play when I can.
You’re now part of the furniture at Caterham, having been with the team since its inception (as Lotus Racing, and later as Team Lotus). How would you rate your performance over the last two years?
I think they have been two very good years for me. After 2009 [his last year with McLaren], it was quite clear that things were not working very well for me. For various reasons, the performances were not good enough.
I sat down with my family and friends, and came to the conclusion that I needed to go back to a starting point. The way that I was going racing and maintaining fitness was not working, and we made a plan to rediscover the young talented driver that I once was.
When you look at my peers like Lewis Hamilton or Robert Kubica, I lost out when I entered Formula 1. I was always on par with them in karting and in the junior formulae, but things have not worked out since I joined Formula 1.
I’ve made a lot of changes. I’ve changed my physical fitness regime to better prepare for each race weekend. I’ve changed my management, and taken control of a lot more of my affairs. With Caterham, I’ve been able to find my way again. They’ve given me the space to find my form again.
Last season, I think, was the best I’ve ever had in Formula 1. Taking the car’s performance limitations into consideration, I think I was better able to squeeze more out of the car’s performance more regularly.
Points must now be the aim, for you and the team, after two seasons getting the operation going. Will you be satisfied at the end of the season if you’ve been able to claim a few top-ten finishes?
I think so, yes. It’s still hard to say whether that’s realistic or not – whether we can fight for points. Cracking into the top-ten is very hard.
But from what I can see, we have definitely made a step forward from last year, and I’m sure we’re closer to the midfield than before. And if we’re not, we’ve got to give 110% – and more – to get there.
We’re still growing as a team. We have our major relocation of factories this year [the team is moving into the old Arrows / Super Aguri headquarters at Leafield later this year], and these are still things that we need to go through.
What are your impressions of the CT01 after your test runs in the car during the pre-season?
The feeling is positive, although I’ll add that any driver will tell you this at the start of any championship season! For everybody, the car should be better than last year’s car – hopefully we’ve made bigger strides than our rivals during the off-season.
The car feels better aerodynamically, and overall it is a step forward from last year. Quite where we land up in the pecking order remains to be seen, but the car is also reliable, and that helps.
You also had a change in the team’s line-up late in the pre-season, with Vitaly Petrov being brought in to replace Jarno Trulli. How has Vitaly settled into the squad, and did this change cause any disruptions for you?
No, it didn’t really cause any changes or distractions for me. It doesn’t really matter who is in the other car; in the end, I concentrate on my own business and I always try to beat my team-mate.
Jarno was a very quick team-mate. He was a good guy and we got on well, on and off the track. We both pushed each other.
I’m sure it will be the same with Vitaly. He was quick in pre-season testing, and I’m sure he’ll be beating me a few times. I’ve just got to bounce back from those moments and give 110% to make sure I stay in front of him as often as possible.
Images via Caterham F1 Team Media, Corbis Images and RichardsF1.com
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