Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen has emerged as the favorite to replace Kimi Raikkonen for the final two races of the season in Austin (this weekend) and Brazil (next weekend).
Raikkonen had to withdraw from the rest of the season due to back surgery, the Finn having sustained injury during the Singapore Grand Prix and part of the Korean Grand Prix. This departure, coming just weeks before he was set to leave the team anyway to go to Ferrari, means that Lotus has the tough job of finding a suitable replacement for the Finn on such short notice.
It seems Lotus has an aFINNity for Finnish drivers (sorry, it had to be done). Kovalainen’s experience with top teams, having driven for Mclaren in 2008-09 and what was then Renault back in 2007, makes him a surprisingly obvious candidate for Raikkonen’s replacement.
Nico Hulkenberg and Davide Valsecchi were thought to be the team’s first choices as replacements, with the former even going to Enstone yesterday to work out a contract and the latter being the team’s reserve driver, but after Hulkenberg declined in the end and Valsecchi was unfortunately overlooked, Kovalainen emerged as the favorite.
Kovalainen’s experience with both a top team and the squad at Enstone will ensure that he is up to speed relatively quickly. His practice outings with Caterham this season, of which there have been six, ensure he is also up to speed with Pirelli’s sometimes confusing and difficult-to-manage tires. The last time Kovalainen raced in F1 was with Caterham last season.
An official announcement regarding Raikkonen’s temporary replacement is expected tomorrow afternoon, just one day before the first practice session.