Lotus have confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement for the US and Brazilian Grand Prix will be fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen.
After it was announced that Raikkonen would be missing the last two races of the year to have surgery on his back, it was widely expected that Lotus would promote reserve driver Davide Valsecchi to the seat. Valsecchi, who was the GP2 champion in 2012, has been Lotus’ test and reserve driver for this season, taking part in the Young Driver Test for the team in July.
With the team being locked in a tight battle with Ferrari for third in the Constructors championship, however, it looks like Lotus have chosen to go with a more experienced driver. Kovalainen was dropped at the end of 2012 as Caterham opted to go with a ‘pay driver’, but he has six year of Grand Prix racing under his belt. After a year with Renault, he moved to McLaren in 2008 and stayed with them for the 2009 season. In 2010 he joined Caterham (then Team Lotus) and raced with them for three seasons. During his Formula One career he racked up one win, one pole position and four podiums.
Kovalainen will join Romain Grosjean for this weekend’s US Grand Prix in Austin, and the season finale in Brazil. He has been driving in some FP1 sessions for Caterham throughout the season, meaning he is familiar with the 2013 Pirelli tyres.
Team Principal 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 as we aim to finish the year in the best position possible. We must thank Tony Fernandes and Caterham F1 Team for their professional conduct in allowing Heikki to join us for the final races of this season.”
Kovalainen said: ““It is a fantastic opportunity for me to join Lotus F1 Team for the final two races of 2013. We’ve seen this year that the E21 is a car which can win races and finish on the podium, so I will be pushing hard for the best results possible. Jumping into a car so late in the year when you have not been competing in the races all season will be a challenge, but I know the team at Enstone well so I have no concerns about getting up to speed. This is a great opportunity for me, so I would like to thank Tony Fernandes and Caterham F1 Team for allowing me to take advantage of it.”