Interviews

Heikki Kovalainen: Quick, focused and determined

By Zaki JufriEvents - 10 September 2012 12:00 AM

Heikki Kovalainen: Quick, focused and determined

Heikki Kovaleinen. Check out his Angry Birds helmet. Photo: Caterham F1

For Formula One fans, the scene that unfolded in the penultimate lap of the 2010 SingTel Singapore Formula One Grand Prix was perhaps the most unforgettable:

Wisps of black smoke wafting out of the engines of the incoming Lotus Racing car on Turn 23 as it made its way into the finishing straight, gasps heard throughout the grand-stand as everyone realised that the engine had burst into flames.

Instead of heading straight into the pits, the car slowed and veered into the shoulder. The driver calmly limbered out, grabbed an extinguisher from the stewards behind the fence, and coolly doused the flames out. The crowd broke into rapturous applause and cheers.

The driver? One Heikki Kovaleinen – career race car driver and now part-time fire-fighter. “That’s not how I imagined the race to end,” the Finn recalls, “I’m glad no one got hurt.”

The 2012 Season So Far

Now with Caterham F1 (previously known as Lotus Racing) and in 20th place with 0 points and 0 wins this season, Kovaleinen remains optimistic.

“Personally for me it’s been good as I feel like I’m performing better than ever and physically I feel very good. From the team perspective we’re not where we want or need to be, but everybody is working as hard as they can to help us achieve the goals we’ve set out for this season and we have the rest of the season to do just that,” he tells inSing.com in an interview.

Like most Formula One drivers, Kovaleinen got his start go-karting before moving up the ranks in Formula Renault, Formula Three, Nissan World Series and GP2. He made his Formula One race debut in 2006 with Renault after two years as its test driver.

Now 30, Kovalainen describes himself as a “quick, focused and determined” driver.

"We’re not where we want to be in terms of outright pace, but we’ll get there"

His best season thus far was his two-year stint at McLaren, racing alongside Lewis Hamilton in 2008 to 2009. In 2009, he garnered 22 points in the Driver’s Championships but never seemed to have gotten his groove back after that.

“I knew what I was joining when I first visited the old (Lotus/Caterham) factory in Norfolk back in late 2009 and since then the team has gone from a handful of people to where we are now – more than 270 staff, a new factory in Oxfordshire and everything in place to take the next step up the grid,” said Kovalainen.

“As I said earlier, we’re not where we want to be in terms of outright pace, but we’ll get there.”

Caterham F1 finished 10th in the Constructors Championship in 2011, with three 13th place finishes; two from former team mate Jarno Trulli, the other from Kovalainen.

His most memorable race this year? “So far I’d say Monaco or Valencia. Monaco was a great race, staying ahead of Jenson (Button) and finishing strongly was great. In Valencia, we beat one of the teams ahead on pure pace in qualifying and then had a great race to finish 13th, but we all want to have something else to celebrate this year, so hopefully the most memorable race is still ahead of us!” Kovaleinen gushes.

CT01
The CT01. Photo: Caterham F1

And that’s where the team’s CT01 (powered by a Renault Sport F1 V8 engine) shone. “We were strong in Valencia, and we were quick in Monaco – we don’t yet have the down-force levels of the cars ahead so places like Valencia and Monaco suit us better for now,” he explains. The Caterham CT01 is the first car the team has built to run KERS (a power boost system).

Despite all the numerous rules changes, the internal squabbling and scandals, Kovaleine’s only wish is for more horsepower. “Any driver will tell you what they really want is more power, so maybe the only change I’d make would be to go back to V10 engines – they sounded fantastic and before the restrictions came in, they were very, very powerful.”

The road to Singapore GP

With one more race to go (Italy GP), he’s looking forward to the main event here in Singapore: “Off-track it’s a great race where we have a lot of support. Being so close to Malaysia it’s sort of another home race for us, so we always have a great welcome. On track I hope we can keep edging closer to the cars ahead. That’s the aim – be there to take advantage of what happens in front and make sure we have a clean, quick race.”

Thankfully, Singapore remains the only night race in the calendar (Abu Dhabi doesn’t really count as it starts at 5pm) but Kovaleinen says that he’s always excited to race in new places and he doesn’t really mind the late start as it looks great on TV. “It’s always great for fans when F1 adds something new [races] to the calendar (Abu Dhabi in 2009, New Delhi in 2011 and Austin in 2012),” he says

“From my perspective in the cockpit, it doesn’t really matter. We race where and when the calendar tells us. We want to be as quick as we can wherever we are and whatever time we’re racing. I just want to win more races and I want to win championships.”

2012 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix is on from 21-23 September,  2012. Tickets available at www.singaporegp.sg/ticket/ticket_price.php