Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus for the final two races of the season, starting with this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin.
Raikkonen, who will race for Ferrari next year, is unavailable to drive after choosing to undergo surgery for a recurring back problem.
For one-time race winner Kovalainen, 32, it marks a return to the team where he started his Formula 1 career, when the outfit were known at Renault.
It was important that Lotus signed a driver with Formula 1 experience as they are in a tight battle with Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship.
The team’s test driver Davide Valsecchi, who won last year’s GP2 championship, has driven the 2013 car twice this season, but his race weekend experience is limited to just one Friday practice session a couple of years ago.
Team boss Eric Boullier said, “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. 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.”
Nico Hulkenberg, who is a contender for the full-time race seat next season, is understood to have turned down the seat, instead choosing to finish the season with Sauber. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was also sounded out, but he too rejected the chance of a second comeback.
So the team turned to Kovalainen, with 110 starts and four podiums under his belt. The Finn made his debut in 2007, replacing Fernando Alonso at Renault before joining McLaren in 2008 where he claimed his one and only victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
He moved to Tony Fernandes’ Lotus Racing team in 2010, and though he lost his drive this season, he has taken part in a number of Friday practice sessions for the outfit now known as Caterham.
* Meanwhile McLaren has confirmed that Kevin Magnussen will drive alongside Jenson Button next season.