Heikki Kovalainen has appeared in the F1 paddock in Austin and spoken of his surprise and delight at being hired by Lotus for the final two races of the season, standing in for Kimi Raikkonen, who has gone for back surgery ahead of a move to Ferrari next season.
Kovalainen was only contacted on Tuesday evening UK time so the deal came together quickly, with the Finn able to spend Wednesday on the simulator and in the Lotus F1 factory having a seat fitting and getting up to speed with the technology on the Lotus car. He has done a number of Friday sessions with Caterham this season, most recently in Suzuka last month, so he is as well prepared as is possible under the circumstances.
He made it clear that he is racing for only two Grands Prix with Lotus, but that his plans for 2014 are to re-establish himself as one of the race drivers at Caterham.
“It was absolutely a surprise,” said Kovalainen. “I came home from the running track Tuesday evening and Eric Boullier rang me. I was interested but I’m contracted to Caterham so we had to get hold of them. Wth Tony the other side of the world it took a while to reach him and things got quite hectic. But it worked out, thanks to Tony.
“I was in England all day yesterday and we got a lot of stuff done (simulator etc) and we are in as good shape as possible to start the weekend. It’s fantastic to come back. I didn’t want to give up on the dream of racing in F1. So I stayed in Caterham even if it was only as a reserve driver and it was a good decision because the fact that I’ve done some Fridays was a big factor in Lotus hiring me.
“It’s only for two races. At the moment the plans for 2014 are still furthest with Caterham. After these two races the plan is still with Caterham and I’ve not spoken to anyone else.”
“The main thing is that this year I’ve been with Caterham and done some Friday sessions and I kept a reasonable feel for the tyres and the car and the general. I kept it up fairly well. I’m confident I can start the weekend straight away reasonably competitive and target a good result.”
Lotus are in a fight with Ferrari and Mercedes for second third and fourth places in the constructors championship. The have 297 points to Mercedes’ 334 and Ferrari’s 323, but at this stage of the season the Lotus is arguable the fastest car, certainly in race conditions. So there is a chance to beat Ferrari and maybe even Mercedes if results go their way. Each position in the table is worth around $10 million, so there’s a lot at stake.