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Heikki Kovalainen back at Caterham!
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Apr 2013   |  7:51 am GMT  |  94 comments

Caterham F1 Team has announced a restructuring of its drivers with former racer Heikki Kovalainen coming back into the team, initially to drive in Friday morning practices at Grands Prix and to give technical feedback on Caterham’s new technical package due in Barcelona. Reserve driver Alexander Rossi will move over to race in GP2 for Caterham Racing, taking the seat of Ma Qing Hua.

Kovalainen raced for Caterham for three seasons, but left the team at the end of 2012 as it took on two young drivers with budgets, Charles Pic and Guido van der Garde. Kovalainen’s presence will increase the pressure on the pair to perform as well as supplementing the technical feedback from the cockpit.

With Pirelli set to introduce and extra set of tyres for Friday morning drivers from Spain onwards, there could be a lot more action on track in these sessions.

According to the team, “(Kovalainen) will take part in the sessions as part of a formal technical development role he is taking up with Caterham F1 Team, helping support the introduction of the first performance updates to the 2013 car, an important milestone in the strategy the team are working to in the current season.”

The team has had a very disappointing start to 2013; it has been the backmarker so far this season, as Marussia has taken a step forward, although Pic managed to finish ahead of Max Chilton in China last weekend.

The team planned for a new technical package, their 2013 car proper, to appear at the fifth round of the season in Barcelona and in preparation for that Kovalainen will drive on Friday morning in Bahrain and then again on Friday morning in Spain in order to provide technical development feedback to ensure that the new package gets up to speed as quickly as possible.

According to a statement from the team, Ma Qing Hua “remains a core member of Caterham F1 Team’s driver roster and an announcement about his revised race plans in 2013 will be made in due course.”

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James, what do you think the chances of Heikki taking over as race driver if he's regularly faster than the other two drivers?


Heikki will be in the race seat by the first race after the summer break, or before, unless they find a second in the car before hand !!


You have to ask the question..


To put a counter argument to this forward, why is it everyone thinks Heikki is so much better than when he was at McLaren? Surely that experience would of course help in a poorly performing car, but not necessarily mean he is in any way 'quicker' than he was before. Lewis really did blow him away when at McLaren, isn't it better to give other young drivers the chance of a race seat and use experienced drivers to provide greater technical feedback throughout the campaign?

Also, isn't this car made with Heikki's technical input? And haven't the past 2-3 season's cars' been designed with his input and still failed to bring home a point?

Looked at through this lens, it seems a chassis/aero/tyre benchmarking exercise and nothing more. Surely no team would look to hire 2 rookies then replace them after just 3 races in a poor car..!?


I fully agree, he should be used and more power to him for doing so. But I tend to side with the mgmt of Caterham that new young racing drivers should get a turn too, not least because Heikki hasn't really delivered in any of his cars.


Yes, but in comparing Lewis to Heikki to the pay-drivers, you are really comparing 'apples' to 'oranges' to 'fruit-that-no-one-ever-really-wanted-but-someone-is-paying-you-a-lot-to-eat'.

Caterham last year was put on it's backfoot with it's move the Leafield. The real test is going to be what the new car does in relation to the Marussia (and ideally the Williams and TR too).

Bringing Heikki in to make that assessment (over the technical might of Pic or VDG) seems to be a very good idea to me.


Technical input is one thing, being able to solve the problems that your driver pointed out is another.

You can have the best test driver in the world - if your engineers or financial situation are your weak spot you can't improve.

I do think that it's a good idea to bring him back. Changing both drivers basically robs you of all reference points for your new car. You should have a driver that knows the old car who can reliably tell the difference. And in my point of view, this comes a little late. You don't want your driver to spent too much time between driving both cars, we all forget things.


If I may make a careful prediction here... Ma Qing Hua takes over van der Garde seat sometime during this year...? Maybe as soon as Spain?


Not a realistic possbility. Caterham are dropping Ma like a hot brick now that China and the obvious PR opportunities are behind them.


Okay, scrap that... Mua has sponsorship issues...


Hey, Chapor!

Hua looked painfully slow to me.... What was he...? About, two seconds slower than the next to last car (can't remember now who it was....) during Friday's free practice sessions.

Kovalainen's nothing but a stark presence to, I'd say, Van de Garde. rather than Pic, that he needs to up his game immediately!

Ah, the influence that young Bianchi and his Marussia is having on the back end of the F1 grid....


You are right off course, thought I was being clever... 🙂


I can't see it happening, he's a couple seconds of the pace and though the FIA are happy to let him run on Fridays I can see them revoquing his super lisence because of his complete lack of top level single seater experience and talent.


Realized the error of my ways already... Didn't think it through properly.


It's clear that Caterham's development has stalled. I have to wonder though, how much can a change of test driver improve the development...

In any case, it would be interesting to know how big a part the driver is in developing the car nowadays when there's so much telemetry available.


The drivers don't really develop the cars in the sense that they pushed developments a few decades ago but they do need to give consistent feedback and development drivers are generally consistent rather than fast. It's possibly why pedro de la rosa is considered one of the best test drivers of all time but he's not made a huge mark in racing terms.

That said heikki has experience with KERS and other teams so he can at least point out where the car has taken a step backward or is inconsistent.


No pressure lads...

Test seat today, race seat before the end if the season. The question is; who will blink first?


I think Caterham need all the help they can get . It was crazy to release both experienced driver. Very sad that you loose experienced guys for money then have to hire them again in "support" roles .

James, I thought a few experienced guys found some sponsorship - Kamui I read somewhere found some late last year. Any others you aware of came with backing?

Guess it was never enough either way.

I guess it's a sad reality that unless your going to be in the points which will return revenue to the constructor there's no point hiring experienced racers. Very tough job ahead for Mr Abitboul. On the flip side you have Marussia going great Atm.

Just thinking out loud- surely if teams like Ferrari or Red Bull with their young driver programmes can release someone to the likes of Caterham they can prepare them for a seat down the track- similar to Bianci I guess . Everyone is always talking about the difficulty of bringing drivers into F1 & having them race ready even current Friday test drivers. Lotus have several reserve drivers too.. Send them off to Caterham and let them get experience - if they end up happy their then you know they were wrong for you. 🙂


Yup. Also, it really seems like they have realised their mistake now.


A light bulb must have switched on in somebody's head (Tony Fernandes?).

Let's hope it leads to Heikki getting a race seat back, but at least start to get the car improved.

It may be that the car is already OK, but you won't get a very average 'pay-driver' to show that. Just because they bring money means nothing if they have no idea about set-up & feed-back.

Good luck to Heikki, who knows where he may be next year?


I read on Autosport that the extra set of tyres were going to be available for rookie drivers? In that case Heikki wouldn't be able to get them. I didn't understand why it had to be rookie drivers, so it would make more sense if it was just test drivers


As they say, in F1, nothing is impossible.

A very welcome back to the popular Heikki in this new role as development driver.

Yes Caterham as a team has disappointed for they have promised a lot but unfortunately haven't been able to deliver.

And then, there's the issue of having inexperienced drivers as your leaders.

Sincerely Caterham can afford at least one driver (preferably a GP2 champion) who can push this team up a couple of notches up the grid.

Anyway good luck to Heikki, hopefully he can somehow manage to muscle his way back into the sport >>> Yes, we need more nice fellas on the grid.


If I was Heiki I'd be inclined to say put me back in a race seat or nothing- still, even with the team's financial pressures, I can imagine he might be offered a race seat later in the season. At the moment Bianchi is looking the most likely to get the highest result of the 4 back marker drivers.


Just goes to show the crazy world of f1. If it was not for Razia's sponsorship collapse then we wouldn't be talking about a young guy who is clearly very talented and possibly the next alonso/hamilton etc!


Yup, I was thinking Alonso Minardi '01, impressing even a slow car, difficult to do

Scuderia McLaren

Sigh... Just admit you were wrong Caterham and put him back in the car full time.

As it stands, Marussia will be getting about £10m injection for 10th.

Pay drivers are only viable assuming they don't COST you positions in the WCC that you should easily own.


3 for 3 🙂


What makes you think that Marussia's advantage comes from drivers and not from the car?


That's a very good point! No point taking on pay drivers if they end up costing you, meaning you need to bring someone in with even deeper pockets next time around. That's a bad situation to get into.


Good to see Heikki back!

"to appear at the fourth round of the season in Barcelona" - Barcelona is the fifth round James...season is going by quickly isn't it?! Amazing it's already Round 4!


Assuming we have a race this weekend. Can't believe JT won't be attending.

Back on topic!! Good to see him back, he'll be driving in a race by seasons end.


The worlds of F1 and Premiership are cruel and very different from 'normal' commercial environments where Tony Fernandes has succeeded. I fear soon he will bail out of both like many gone before who do not play the game


It seems that F1 and Premiership teams are expensive toys for multi billionaires.

Ironic that they are giving their money to billionaire Bernie.

Caterham has the dual objective of building a car brand - especially in Asia. Looking forward to seeing their first product under the new strategy. Caterham 7's are not exactly suited to congested Asian cities nor tropical downpours! Nor is it a product to roll up to a trendy Friday evening night club. So it'll be fascinating how the brand is repositioned or broadened.

Apologies for the cruel humour - but to me it is exactly where it is right now. A value for money budget sports car racing against Ferrari's and McLarens! Sorry Caterham boys. Hope you'll have the last laugh.


Surely the budget sports car maker is a step up from the family hatchbacks.


Renault would like to have a word with you, those are Hot Hatches sir! Not family hatchbacks how dare you.


Good Point


I can't help thinking he'd do better to focus on one or the other.


I doubt it will be long before he is back racing on Sundays. Fingers crossed


The way Caterhams current line up are doing he'll be back for Spain.


The Curious Case of Heikki Kovalainen:

Most successful racers' careers:

friday reserve driver ->random backmarker team ->team (not backmarker) that struggles with pace ->top team capable of winning championship -> another top team that is capable of winning championship

Heikki's career:

Top team capable of winning championship (Renault) ->another top team capable of winning championship (Mclaren) -> team that stuggles with pace (2009 McLaren) -> some random backmarker team (Caterham) ->Friday reserve driver

#mind blown#


Makes you ask the question why the top teams that can afford to pick their drivers didn't keep him.


I think you're the only person who thinks Renault were capable of the championship in 2007.


Thats hindsight, they were 2x defending champs after all bro.

Stuart Harrison



Ouch... I guess money from two pay drivers doesn't ease the pain of being the slowest team in the paddock.

Still it gives us Heikki back so it is great news. It will certainly be good to see how his lap times compare with those of the two youngsters.

Perhaps in the current time of crisis, this is the beginning of a new trend: teams with rookie drivers (i.e. with a budget) re-hiring experienced, known-quantity 'old hands', to develop cars through the year?

If so, someone please give Kamui Kobayashi a call..!



I know Gutierrez has backing and I know it's very early in the season, but is he really impressing anyone?


I can't help but picture bosses at Sauber looking at their bank balance and going "Ooh, I like all this money..."


Gutierrez impressing? No, not really. I was trackside in Melbourne and every time a Sauber came past you didn't need to check whose helmet it was: if it was all over the shop, it was the Mexican!


I´m very happy for Kovalainen. But I would be even happier if he was a reserve driver for McLaren


Totally agree that Heikki could teach a good few of the drivers an thing or 2. Perez comes to mind in particular


I will be happy to see Heikki back in any car as long as he is driving on a Sunday.


Will Kovalainen get the benefit of the extra set of tires on Friday? I thought these were only for rookie drivers?


Budget drivers versus experience, caterham will 'talk true'

Aaron Wilkinson

James do you think considering on this information they have been running in respect a 2012 car. they havent really done that bad. Or is this a sign that Caterham are starting to maybe panic.


In fairness to Pic, he didn't just finish ahead of Chilton, he lead Bianchi for much of the race and was only a couple of seconds behind at the end. It's van der Garde who is the deadwood.


I hope he blows their doors off and shows what a farce F1 has become - only the best drivers should be there not those with budgets.

Bernie should sort out the distribution of the teams money based on a set budget (say 200 million for example) the teams declare from their sponsorship/endorsements and make up the lower teams funding to equalize it out.

As the lower teams become more successful and get better sponsorship the amount of money is reduced and teams that are doing worse get more to help them get back up to the level and so on

Charith Arachchi

This is similar to the way American football works. During the offseason, the poorest performing teams get the first draft choices (in order to have the best chance of securing new talent) and so it helps to equaliez those that are falling behind.

It's a wonder to me that no in the world of F1 has considered that this would create more competition amongst all the teams rather than the perennial few that are always at the top and at the bottom.


Surely that football arrangement sometimes results in thrown games to be nearer the bottom for next season if this season has started poorly? F1 teams would definitely pull that trick if the stakes were high enough.


Thrown games not so much, teams that are that far down usually get rolled anyway. The coaches are usually fighting for there next job too. Not always.


Yeh bring back kov, great news


So reading between the lines:

The pay drivers are useless at helping with car setup, are not even be fast enough to keep the team in 10th, and don't bring enough money to allow them to lose the $30-40m if they end up 11th at the end of the year.


Good to see him back, really nice guy, but to be honest he had his chance in the top teams and didn't take it


Maybe so, but it's farcical that he should have to make way for a driver of van der Garde's modest abilities. If it was someone like Robin Frijns then OK, they might have a point, but van der Garde is just a journeyman who has no business racing in F1 and will contribute nothing whatsoever to Caterham's quest for 10th in the WCC.


Your right, but unfortunately that's the way the big bad world works, money talks

Caterham don't seem to know what they are doing, they havn't done anything in F1 even with a Renault engine which won a race last year in the back of a redbull, lotus and Williams

Tony Fernandes needs to read the riot act


I would love to see Glock in the Marussia playing a similar role.

It would be interesting to see if Bianchi really is that good or Chilton is just making him look good.


I suspect he really is that good. Chilton's probably not really as rubbish as a lot are saying. I mean, sure he's not blowing anyone away yet, but he at least seems competent.

I can't remember which race it was, maybe Malaysia, but there was a nice shot of a Marussia defending position against another car (I assume a Caterham, although I don't remember) through I think turns 1 and 2. Was a nice clean bit of wheel to wheel, and the Marussia made nice use of his lines to stay out in front. I just assumed straight away it was Bianchi (based on the automatic assumption of "Bianchi = Good, Chilton = Rubbish"), but then noticed it was actually Chilton. Which was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, one might argue that Bianchi would have been far enough in front to not even need to defend... haha.


is this a suttle way of the team saying 'we need to find out how slow our drivers are'


...and the car. Don't forget the car 🙂


Heikki back on the grid by Monaco?


Interesting - just thinking: why would Heikki actually want to be back in what is clearly a "dog" of a car? Having won a race before, surely having a best result of 12th place with this team in 3 years should have been enough to take the break? Are they paying him very well, or am I underestimating the "love" for the job. Just not sure what any experienced driver, even P de la Rosa last year gains from trundling around at the back like a moving chicane - for a young and upcoming driver, OK. As for Caterham - who were clearly the "darlings" of the media - I really wanted them to succeed, but they're clearly moving backwards - those blue-chip companies sponsoring them with surely bail themselves out as soon as they can. I notice no more of those cheery upbeat press releases anymore - is Tony F losing interest?


If he wants back into F1 (and I'm sure he does) then this is a foot in the door.

If he jumps in the car on Friday and blows away Pic and Van De Garde then it won't make him the fastest driver in the world, but people will take notice.

I'm not sure how much Caterham get from pic and VDG, but the prospect of missing 10th place and around $10m will have to have them thinking.


At least management recognized deficiencies and taking serious remedial steps now, although we know they've brought it upon themselves via the way of pay drivers.

Caterham is doing something about it quickly and I see this as good and positive management.


Never should have dropped him, made no sense at all.

kovi has brought the team so much positive exposure over the years; holding button up at monaco, challenging for Q2 on a few occasions and even making it through. No point having sponsors if they are never seen in a positive light. At the moment those two caterham drivers just run around at the back or crash.

Now Marussia have taken over as the underdog that people are rooting for to cause an upset amongst the big boys.


Hmm... this takes Rossi out of the picture for his shot at Friday F1 Practice this year, huh? ... however, it puts him in a consistent race seat in GP2.

I wonder what would be the better situation? Limited Friday F1 Practice as reserve driver or a full-time GP2 seat?

Following the fate of potential American F1 drivers is a frustrating task. 🙁


To me, all of you are off the mark and completely missing what's going on at Caterham. It is possible Van der Garde has suprised Fernandez in his lack of performance, but he knew exactly what he was getting with Pic.

Did none of you listen to what Heikki is saying? This (his return) has been talked about for awhile. Did none of you see his interview on Sky in Malaysia? This (the performance) is as expected.

It's not that difficult to figure out. F1 teams are a business, period. Fernandez hires two pay drivers which means more money for his business, imagine that! More money allows more investment in the R&D program for 2014, meanwhile he fields a mildly updated 2012 chassis for 2013 also allowing more focus on 2014. Kovalainen basically said as much in Malaysia. Sounds like a savvy businessman trying to manage resources to me.


Sounds plausible and I have no doubt most - if not all - of the pay drivers in the lower teams are about funding 2014...but if that's the plan why bring in Heikki now?


This really made me laugh. It reminded me of how companies lay off employees to save G&A spending only to hire them back as contractors. It leads to poor morale as the employees that survived the layoff are left with the impression that they are not good enough to move the company forward, and the former employees are contracted back at much higher pay. Something I've seen many times in my own industry. Classic. Go Heikki!


I'd be happy to see the angry bird back in the car!


I wonder if Mclaren can arrange a swap with Perez


Won't happen.

For one thing - whether you think they should or not - McLaren won't give up Perez this early in the season for three reasons:

First, he's still integrating with the team and they haven't given him a decent car yet, so they haven't really seen what he can do.

Second - and more importantly - McLaren is a team with a lot of pride, so if they decide they have made a mistake in hiring Perez they won't admit that until they absolutely have to.

Third: McLaren have already tried Heikki; it didn't really work out, so they're unlikely to try him again.

Aside from that Caterham won't give up Heikki so easily.

They've pretty much admitted that they shouldn't have let him go in the first place (although who knows, this might have been their plan from the get go :)). They're not going to do it twice.

He's there to tell them from experience how the 2013 car is different, why it's not working, and how to fix it.

Perez can't do any of that, so Caterham would only lose out by swapping.


For who?


It's a start to sort out the issues there. When they dust off Gascoyne then we'll know they're wanting more than a grid spot.

Adrian Newey Jnr

I can't imagine that Heikki would be earning much from this experience. Surely if he had the view to a long term drive in the sport with a team higher up the field, then he should be offering to drive for free as a reserve driver for a team like Renault, Mercedes or Force India.


So Ma cannot find sponsor in China?

Does his future rest on sponsorship?


Whatever the reason, the plan, and the long term outcome, I'm glad that Heikki will be back contributing to the success of an F1 team, even if to start he'll only be doing FP1 devo work. Cheers, Kov!


I hope Tyler is right, because that sounds like the best use of resources. I am a big fan of Caterham and would love to see them excel.

Charith Arachchi I think you are on the right path there with American Football, Basketball, and Hockey. In F1 I think there should be some kind of baseline revenue sharing. If the teams were treated like franchises and FOM as the governing body. I have yet to see what the FIA bring to the sport other than to leach money away from if and provide little real value. I could be misinformed but that is how I see it so far. I am not sure why Auto Racing does not run itself like a Sports League. NASCAR and F1 seem to be the 2 big dogs in the sport with both having similar TV deals. The difference is that Bernnie shakes down governments (and oh my how shady the inter workings of that whole deal must be) and the France family (NASCAR)up until recently actually owned most of the venues themselves. I am still having trouble comming to grips with the fact that F1's TV package is so similar in size to NASCAR's. I have seen reports of around $800 million US annually but compared to NASCAR's 5.4 billion over 7 years I scratch my head. Heck the tv package for the local baseball team here in Dallas is $150 million a year and there are 30 teams some with TV deals over $300 million a year.

Anyway I digress as usual, I would love to see the back teams have more money from F1 and less go to Ferrari and almost zero go to the FIA. Each team from 5 to 11 should get some base amount of money with most going to the lesser teams for the next 5 years. Then there just be basic revenue sharing for probably 30% of all the team's portion of the revenues.


Heikki: (Clicks tongue) "So Tony, that's who you replaced us with?"

Tony: ...


This seems to have sparked quite a discussion - it's probably too early after three races to crunch the numbers and compare to last season, but it does seem as though there are noticeably big gulfs in performance of drivers in the same team this year (e.g. RAI vs GRO, HUL vs GUT, BIA vs CHI, BUT vs PER).

So, is it:

- The regulations have led to racing where the driver can make more of a difference?

- The junior drivers are of a lower standard?

- A bit of both?

On the other hand, we are spoiled by the quality of drivers like Alonso et al, and that combined with my slight distaste for pay drivers could be colouring my opinion.

I wonder if, come hiring time, there will be a trend back towards proven points-scorers rather than budget-wielding rookies?

I'd be interested to read your thoughts on this James.


The way I see it, one part of the equation are the tire regulations.

If there's a clear number one driver then he can change his tires at optimum window, while the number two driver has to drive one lap more (or less?) with old tires.

That can be 3-5 second slower combination by itself as the tires can 'fall off the cliff' really rapidly.

Now if the there's an unexpected strategy shift because of eg. more rapidly degrading tires or change in weather conditions that can mean 2-3 tire changes going the wrong way for the number two driver. Add the times up and the difference in a single race can be in range of 10s of seconds just because of the tire regulations.

Now add up the difficulty of driving in a crowd and you end up with a really disturbing image, where "equally well" driven race by the number two driver can – admittedly in worst case scenario – end up multiple places, 5-6 even, behind the number one driver because of not being able to get the right tires at the right time.

However, it's good to notice that even in the optimal case of having exactly one tire change one lap off can offset a race badly, because the couple of seconds lost while driving that extra lap can put the second driver in worse racing position in the track.


A bit of the old back-peddling by Catherham here. I said at the time when Heikki was dropped that it wasn't a good move for a developing (and still fairly new) team to run with two inexperienced drivers - I know Pic doesn't count as a rookie but he has very little experience. I feel this move has cost them the tenth place in the constructors championship already as they are now playing catch up with a pretty decent looking outfit in Marussia. I would personally like to see KOV back behind the wheel racing and challenging for the 10th place!


all this feedback about giving young drivers a chance... but aren't these drivers like Marussias bringing a wad of cash.. so one can assume they may not be the most TALENTED "young drivers" but the two with decent potential who brought he most cash..... IMO..this defeats the purpose of giving a new young driver a chance if he's not among the most talented....

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