Heikki Kovalainen returns to F1 with Caterham

Former Caterham F1 Team race driver, Heikki Kovalainen, rejoins as its lead reserve driver in a move which first surfaced last month. Current reserve driver, Alexander Rossi, moves to Caterham Racing to compete in the 2013 GP2 Championship replacing Chinese driver, Ma Qing Hua.

Ma Qing Hua, who competed in the GP2 opening race in Malaysia and tested for Caterham F1 in last weekend’s Chinest GP is now without a drive, although Caterham say “his revised race plans in 2013 will be made in due course.”

If this all sounds a bit ‘messy’, then in true Caterham style, it is and it isn’t.

You’ll remember Kovalainen was unceremoniously bumped off the F1 team at the end of 2012 when it chose to promote reserve driver Giedo van der Garde. He brought money to the team, which Kovalainen was unable to match and the media portrayed a falling-out between the Finn and Caterham F1’s founder, Tony Fernandes.

But that’s not how it really was in practice.

CaterhamF1-driversGiedo van der Garde (Left) has had a difficult start to his first season in F1, while Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua is now without a drive.

Kovalainen is a Formula 1 race winner (when Lewis Hamilton’s team mate at McLaren), Race of Champions winner (beating off Michael Schumacher) and veteran of 60 grand prix. Whatever you might say about his race craft, he knows his way around an f1 car and also helped build Caterham’s F1 team.

During the Malaysian GP weekend four weeks ago, Fernandes held a dinner on Saturday night with his Caterham executives. Kovalainen had mischievously appeared in the pits during Malaysian GP practice (at the Boss’ bequest), and Fernandes was in effervescent mood when he announced that Heikki would be rejoining the F1 team.

The reason may seem obvious as we approach the fourth grand prix this weekend in Bahrain, but when Fernandes announced the decision just a single race had been run – not enough to judge the performances of van der Garde or his team mate Charles Pic.

One can only suppose the canny entrepreneur agreed a performance clause in his new driver’s contracts. In exchange for the money they bring to the team, they get to race, but if they (repeatedly) fall behind the competition (Marussia drivers Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton) then a reserve seat beckons.

During his downtime Kovalainen has remained motivated and in excellent physical condition, crucially without any race plans in the familiar second tier championships which ex-F1 drivers usually migrate to (DTM of GT racing). So he’s ready, willing and it seems eager to take up a full race drive with Caterham F1 at the earliest chance.

The reason may seem obvious as we approach the fourth grand prix in Bahrain, but when Fernandes announced his decision just a single race had been run.

Interestingly, Caterham has announced that Kovalainen will be in van der Garde’s car for FP1 in Bahrain, joining Pic in testing out the team’s first 2013 development parts.

“It’s obviously great news that I’ll be on track in Bahrain and Spain,” said Kovalainen “..and I’m really looking forward to getting back to work and helping the team as much as I can. I’ll be taking part in the two FP1 sessions in Bahrain and Barcelona to give the team my input on the new parts we’re bringing to those races, and I’ll be working closely with the race drivers and the engineers on track and back at Leafield to help everyone get the most out of the new package.

“Tony, Cyril and I have been talking about me taking up this role for quite a while, so it’s good to finally be able to announce how I’ll be helping the team in 2013. I’m physically ready to get back into the car and I know my experience can help give the team new ideas and options for directions to take on setup and strategy. I’m looking forward to getting back to work!”

This weekend’s grand prix in Bahrain sees the introduction of the first performance updates to the 2013 car, and important milestone for the team, which has curiously fallen behind Marussia both in terms of speed and rate of development.

Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team said, “After Ma’s successful run in FP1 in China a number of new opportunities have arisen for him and we have decided to restructure our current line-up. Alexander moves to Caterham Racing to compete in GP2 and I am sure he will be an immediate success in that championship whilst he will continue to enjoy the link with the F1 team throughout the season.”

“Heikki returns to track work with us and we are delighted to welcome him back into the team. He has six years of F1 experience behind him so he is perfectly placed to provide us objective feedback on the various types of configurations we will run and to give us an objective view of the 2013 tyres against his experience with the 2012 compounds. ”

“Having invested in Heikki for our first three years of competition it would be a waste not to leverage the valuable expertise he brings. As F1 is a team sport, he will also provide support to Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, who are both doing a good job in their first months with the team.”