Lotus: Kovalainen’s done a brilliant job, particularly getting used to driving a new car

Heikki Kovalainen had an impressive opening day as a Lotus driver

Heikki Kovalainen had an impressive opening day as a Lotus driver

Heikki Kovalainen has been around Formula 1 long enough not to get excited about Friday practice times but the Lotus team was singing his praises after their Finnish stand-in’s impressive performance at the U.S. Grand Prix.

The veteran of 109 Formula 1 races, the last 60 of which he had to make do without scoring a point, Kovalainen was fifth fastest at the end of the opening day and ahead of French team mate Romain Grosjean on the timesheets.

“We feel he’s done a brilliant job today, particularly with all the procedures and getting used to driving a new car,” declared technical director Nick Chester.

“We felt it might take a little bit of time. But actually straight away in P1 he was already looking after the car very well and in P2 he was fifth quickest and good long runs, I think he’s done a great job today.”

Heikki Kovalainen in action on the opening day in Texas

Heikki Kovalainen in action on the opening day in Texas

Kovalainen has not raced since he left Caterham at the end of last year, although he has taken part in some Friday sessions for that struggling team.

With compatriot Kimi Raikkonen undergoing back surgery and ruling himself out of the last two races, Kovalainen got a call from Lotus principal Eric Boullier on Tuesday asking if he was interested in stepping in.

So late was the summons that he had to miss a scheduled news conference on Thursday at the Circuit of the Americas, and he was also delayed on Friday by fog that forced practice to be truncated.

A former driver for Renault, predecessors to the Lotus iteration of the Enstone based racers, Kovalainen looked very much at home and ended the afternoon just 0.768 seconds behind Red Bull‘s quadruple World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

It was the type of performance that had the paddock buzzing on a sunny Texas afternoon with talk of top four spot on Sunday’s starting grid.

Heikki Kovalainen took over Kimi Raikkonen's cockpit and was soon on the pace

Heikki Kovalainen took over Kimi Raikkonen’s cockpit and was soon on the pace

“It’s better not to speculate too much,” Kovalainen cautioned. “It could be a disaster or could be good. You never know, I don’t like to speculate.

“I think the main thing is that if we can improve from today a little bit, chip away slowly and get the best out of the car. If we fall off a little bit it is so close you could easily be out of the top 10.”

A race winner with McLaren in 2009, Kovalainen’s experience is just what Lotus needs as they battle Ferrari and Mercedes for second place behind Red Bull.

“They hired me to score some points, I felt personally that I should be able to do the job,” said Kovalainen. “It’s nice to be chasing the Ferraris and the McLarens and even the Red Bulls in the longer runs, going past some of the cars.

“But you never know about a short transition from one team to another. You never know how things will work out,” he cautioned.

“Today they worked out quite well but tomorrow could be a disaster. We can’t take anything for granted.” (Reuters)

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  • Nowhereman

    The stench of pay drivers is a little less today as Kovalainen shows that a good driver doesn’t need to bring lots of money to be “good”.
    Perez and

  • McLarenfan

    Heikki Kovalainen is telling it as it is but at the same time proving that he is a driver worthy of a good car on merit not on the $$$$$.
    If crashdonardo the marshal maiming menace with a side deal of carbon crunching gets a seat in a decent car the sport is heading to the dogs.

  • torque

    nice job Heikki, probably better than the Hulk would have done!

  • captain tortuga

    @ McL-fan : yeah i really hope that Crashtor is sidelined from now on.. and it could be , because also Perez is a way better driver than that arrogant piece of acne. F1 will be better of with Crashtor..

  • Pat Chapman

    I notice we’re not getting comment from Alan Permane. Perhaps he has been censured for upsetting Kimi so much and potentialy costing Lotus millions?

  • ZombieJebus

    Shame Heikki was rushed to the forefront of F1. A couple of years at team like Sauber would have helped him so much. Glad he’s giving his critics and the team bosses something to consider!