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Heikki Kovalainen

19th October 1981 (Age 38)
Suomussalmi, Kainuu
Most recent race (in database):

For a small country traditionally more interested in rallying, Finland has been blessed with some very talented racing drivers. When Heikki Kovalainen won the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix he became the fourth Finn to win in Formula 1 – following world champions Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen.

Early racing career

Fast throughout his career in the junior formulae, championship success often eluded him. He had just finished fourth in the 2001 British Formula Renault Championship when Fortec Motorsport promoted him into its team for the Macau Formula 3 race and he responded by finishing in a promising eighth position.

He remained with the team for the 2002 British F3 season and showed improving form to finish third in the championship and second at Macau. Rather than stay and challenge for the title, Kovalainen moved to Spain for the World Series by Nissan. Runner-up for Gabord Competición in his rookie year when beaten by more experienced team-mate Franck Montagny, he won the title for Pons Racing in 2004.

Now a member of Renault F1’s young driver programme, his potential was confirmed by victory for Arden International on his GP2 debut at Imola. Another four wins seemingly put Kovalainen on the verge of the 2005 title but he lost out to Nico Rosberg at the final round.

Formula 1 with Renault and McLaren

Kovalainen had been a test driver for Renault since 2004 and he was promoted to the race team in 2007 as Fernando Alonso’s replacement. However, his torrid GP debut in Australia prompted Team Principal Flavio Briatore to say that "Kovalainen had a horrible race … he did almost everything wrong. It was rubbish".

With that subtle man management ringing in his ears, it is to Kovalainen’s credit that he improved as the year progressed and the Renault R27 improved. Fourth in Canada from the back of the grid restored his confidence somewhat and a fine second in the Japanese rain reminded the world of his talent.

But with the team believed to want a South American driver for 2008, Kovalainen was replaced by Nelsinho Piquet. As one door closed a better one opened. He joined McLaren as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate and soon became a much appreciated team member – representing calm after Hamilton’s previously tempestuous relationship with Alonso.

Kovalainen survived a high-speed accident in Spain and qualified on pole position at Silverstone. He then scored a hugely popular victory in the 2008 Hungarian GP after Felipe Massa’s Ferrari engine blew three laps from the end. Seventh in the championship that year (as he had been in 2007), his second season with the team was less successful and he was replaced by Jenson Button for 2010.

Formula 1 finale with Caterham and Lotus

Kovalainen joined newcomers Lotus Racing instead and accepted life at the wrong end of the pitlane with his customary smile and good humour. There may have been no opportunities to score points but he generally outperformed his experienced team-mate Jarno Trulli during their two years together. A third season with the renamed Caterham F1 Team in 2012 proved disappointing with little sign of progress by the team and still no points finishes.

Eased aside by Caterham as it accepted pay drivers in 2013, Kovalainen spent the season as the struggling concern's reserve before replacing Lotus' Räikkönen for the last two races of the season. He qualified eighth at the Circuit of the Americas but finish that, and the subsequent Brazilian GP in 14th position.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
2016 Japanese Super GT Series 1st -
2013 F1 World Championship
Caterham F1 Team
Lotus F1 Team
2 (6) 0 0 0
0% win rate
21st 0
2012 F1 World Championship
Caterham F1 Team
20 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 0
2011 F1 World Championship
Team Lotus
19 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 0
2010 F1 World Championship
Lotus Racing
18 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
20th 0
2009 F1 World Championship
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
17 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 22
2008 F1 World Championship
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
18 1 3 1
6% win rate
7th 53
2007 F1 World Championship
ING Renault F1 Team
17 0 1 0
0% win rate
7th 30
2005 GP2 Series
Arden International
23 2 12 5
22% win rate
2nd 105
2004 World Series by Nissan
Pons Racing
18 9 11 6
34% win rate
1st 186 (193)
2003 Dallara Nissan V6 World Series
Gabord Competicion
18 3 4 1
6% win rate
2nd 131 (134)
2002 British F3 Championship
Fortec Motorsports
5 1 5 5 3rd 256