After Lotus announced the controversial news that Heikki Kovalainen would replace Kimi Raikkonen for the final two races of 2013, the pressure was on. He had been ditched by Caterham at the end of 2012 and needed to prove his credentials, yet with two P14 finishes in a car capable of exceptional results, Tony Fernandes has acknowledged that the poor performance ultimately cost the Kovalainen a seat at Caterham for 2014.
Lotus Chance a Poison Chalice
Cast your minds back to last November. A disgruntled Kimi Raikkonen opted to prioritise his Ferrari future over the twilight days of his Lotus career, as he announced that he was to miss the final two rounds in order to have surgery on his problematic back. Consequently, Lotus had to find a replacement and one which they considered would be good enough to aid Grosjean in catching Ferrari and Mercedes in the constructors championship. After controversially overlooking reserve driver Davide Valsecchi, the Caterham refugee Heikki Kovalainen grabbed the opportunity.
It was a make of break move for Heikki. After an excellent first two seasons in the sport had seen him catch the eye of McLaren, his move to Woking in 2008 had been far from successful. In a team which was built around Lewis Hamilton and still recovering from the damaging events of 2007. Heikki only managed one admittedly fortuitous victory in 2008 at Hungary when race leader Felipe Massa’s Ferrari broke down with just four laps remaining. The tricky time at McLaren ultimately stalled the Finn’s career and his move to Caterham, (or Lotus as they were known) in 2010, compounded these issues. After the team dropped him due to financial constraints in 2012, the Lotus opportunity was just that.
He cannot be criticised for taking the offer. Each and every opportunity needs to be grabbed with both hands in this era of Formula One, where seats are improbably hard to claim without the assistance of financial assets. However, the move ultimately damaged his reputation – He failed to live up to the billing and struggled to extract the performance from the E21. If he had managed to score even one point, his fate for 2014 could have been so very different.
While he was confident of a Caterham seat for 2014 in Brazil, (if you read into his revealing interview with Natalie Pinkham prior to the race,) the deal never transpired. Instead, Kamui Kobayashi was signed by Tony Fernandes and company, while Heikki was left out in the cold once again.
Kobayashi Instead Of Kovalainen
Caterham highlighted early on this winter that they wanted to sign an experienced driver to partner their seemingly obligatory rookie. Evidently, something made Caterham look for an external candidate as oppose to their long-time servant Kovalainen, who had been a part of the 2013 programme in a reserve role. Fernandes highlighted the Lotus stint as detrimental to Heikki’s credentials.
“Obviously we would lie if that we said it didn’t play a part,” Fernandes told Autosport. “It was a whole mixture of a lot of things but in any decision there are pros and cons. I am egalitarian, I put it out to various team members – there were those pro Heikki and those pro Kamui and I had to make a choice.”
Formula One is at times a game of chance – Heikki was given what could have been a golden opportunity, yet it failed to pay off. However, a driver will never enjoy success without taking a handful of calculated risks. Unfortunately for Kovalainen, his career defining gambles have seemingly failed to pay off