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Heikki Kovalainen

Friday 27th January 2012

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Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen

After battling it at the front end of the grid with McLaren for a couple of years, Heikki Kovailanen now finds himself at other end of the scale with the Carterham F1 team.

Like many on the F1 grid, the Finn began his motorsport career in the karting competitions in 1991, where he remained until making his race-car debut in 2001 in the British Formula Renault Championship series. He finished the season in fourth place, earning the Rookie of the Year title after claiming two victories, two pole positions and three fastest race laps.

In 2002, he moved to the British F3 Championship and finished in third place with five victories, three poles and three fastest laps to his names.

Once again, he also clinched the Rookie of the Year award.

A year later and he was off to the World Series by Nissan where he finished in an impressive second place. The following season, 2004, he claimed the title and was rewarded with his first F1 test.

In 2005, he moved on to the GP2 series, the feeder series for F1. A good start to the year saw him take easy victories in the opening rounds with ease, but he eventually lost the Championship to Nico Rosberg.

The Finn had nonetheless demonstrated sufficient skill to secure a test driver role with the Renault F1 team for the 2006 season and, after an impressive season acting as the team's official third and reserve driver, he was promoted to race driver for the 2007 campaign.

Very much thrown straight into the deep end, Heikki faced a tough baptism of fire, partnering the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella and racing for a team that had won the World titles for two years running.

However, Renault were unable to produce a car capable of winning races never mind titles in 2007 and Heikki's debut suffered as a result.

While his team-mate was claiming all the praise at the start of the season, Kovalainen's first race saw him lambasted his team boss. He recovered at his second grand prix, the Malaysian GP, to score his first World Championship point. And although that was followed by a disappointing race in Bahrain, he was back in form in Spain, outperforming Fisichella.

Points were again available in the North American races where he crashed in qualifying for the Canadian GP only to fight his way through to field to finish fourth. The United States GP earned him another four points before a disappointing start that included a collision with Jarno Trulli on Renault's home soil at the French GP saw another point-less result.

A string of seven consecutive points finishes followed, including a rubber-up finish at the Japanese GP. While most of his rivals got into trouble in one way or another in the wet, Heikki did not and held off Kimi Räikkönen to take second place and his first podium in F1.

The Finn finished the season seventh in the Drivers' standings, nine points ahead of Fisichella and with clear indications that 2007 was just the start of his rise in F1.

During the winter break the Finn was announced as McLaren's second driver for the 2008 season, which handed him the opportunity to prove that he can follow in the footsteps of McLaren's previous great Finnish drivers.

However, with Lewis Hamilton as a team-mate Kovalainen struggled to take the role of McLaren's number one driver, and a huge accident at the Spanish GP didn't help his cause as his confidence and his results took a nose dive.

The Finn, though, fought back to put in some solid results including his first grand prix win in Hungary when he benefitted from Felipe Massa's retirement two laps from the end of the race.

All-in-all it was solid showing from Kovalainen, earning him a second season at McLaren. But unfortunately he again failed to match Hamilton in 2009. With McLaren struggling for pace at the start of the year, Kovalainen failed to score any points in the first two races of the season. That was as good as it got for him in the first eight races of the season during which he had five retirements.

Kovalainen and McLaren's form improved in Germany, but the Finn could only pick up one point. He put in his best showing of the season in Valencia a few weeks later by starting on the front row of the grid with Rubens Barrichello and finishing in fourth place.

That was followed by a couple of sixth places and a seventh place. However by then rumours were circulating that McLaren were in talks with his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen about a move back to Woking. Before the season was up, it was pretty evident that Kovalainen's 22 points would not be enough to keep him at McLaren for the 2010 season. His fate was sealed when they confirmed the signing of Jenson Button in November.

The Finn, though, didn't have to wait too long to sort out his F1 future and a few weeks later his move to newcomers Lotus Racing was confirmed. As expected, the rookies were well off the pace of the more established teams during the early stages of the 2010 season. It really was a different kettle of fish that he was used to, yet the Finn put in some respectable drives.

While team-mate Jarno Trulli finished only one of the first four races, Kovalainen managed to cross the finish line in three of those grands prix, scoring an impressive - by the rookies' standard - 13th in Malaysia. Things went horribly wrong after that as he saw the chequered flag in only two of the next seven races.

The team and Kovalainen finally managed to get their act together after the German Grand Prix and the Finn was able to put in some consistent performances in the latter stages of season. The highlight of his and Lotus' debut campaign came in Japan when he finished just two places outside the points.

The rebranded Team Lotus set their sights on the midfield in 2011 and Kovalainen was the man to lead the squad to 10th place in the Constructors' Championship. After retiring in Australia with a water leak, he crossed the finish line in 15th place in Malaysia and 16th in China.

He outqualified both Force Indians in Spain as he claimed P15 on the grid, but crashed out in the race. He followed it up with a P14 finish in the next race in Monaco. After three retirements in his next five races, he finished in each of the seven remaining races. His highlights was in Italy where he finished a season's best P14.

All in all, Kovalainen managed to outqualify his team-mates Trulli and Karun Chandhok in 17 out of the 19 races and it was no surprise when he was linked with the vacant seat at Renault, but he made it clear that he would only quit Lotus - who will race as Carterham from 2012 - for a top team. Carterham, meanwhile, were always going to stick to with the Finn as they continue to search for their first points in F1 in 2012.

Kovalainen 'up for' F1 return

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