Heikki Kovalainen’s F1 career in pictures

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Several familiar faces from recent F1 season are missing from the F1 field which is assembling in Australia for the first race of the new season.

Among those left without a drive this year is Heikki Kovalainen. In six year he amassed over 100 starts and was the 100th driver to win a round of the world championship.

Here’s a look back on Kovalainen’s six years in Formula One in pictures.

2007: Renault

Kovalainen arrived in F1 with Renault in 2007, taking the place vacated by Fernando Alonso at Renault. In Canada a crash in qualifying and an engine change penalty left him 22nd and last on the grid, but he climbed through the field to finish an impressive fourth.

Later in the season he scored his first podium finish in the rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, holding off Kimi Raikkonen for second place.

With Alonso returning to Renault for 2008 Kovalainen took the opportunity to replace him again – this time at McLaren.

2008: McLaren

Kovalainen was back on the podium in only his second start for McLaren, taking third in Malaysia. But while new team mate Lewis Hamilton was on course for the title, Kovalainen only amassed enough points for seventh overall, and McLaren lost the constructors’ championship to Ferrari.

However he did score his first and, so far, only Grand Prix victory. In Hungary a late retirement by Felipe Massa made him the 100th different driver to win an F1 race.

Another opportunity for victory presented itself in the wet Italian Grand Prix, but Kovalainen finished second behind Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso.

2009: McLaren

Kovalainen’s second season at McLaren was a difficult year for him and the team, which produced the uncompetitive MP4-24. Despite a late-season upgrade which turned the car into a race-winner in Hamilton’s hands, Kovalainen never made it onto the podium.

His best result that year came at Valencia, where he and Hamilton shared the front row, but were beaten by Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn in the race. Kovalainen came home fourth.

Barrichello’s team mate Jenson Button won the championship but was eager to take up the opportunity to move to McLaren, and Kovalainen was moved aside to make way for him.

2010: Lotus

Kovalainen took up a new challenge for 2010, joining Tony Fernandes’s Lotus outfit which was set up mere months before the season began.

The T127 was never going to be a points-scorer, let alone race-winner, but with a reliable car and the experienced line-up of Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli they beat fellow newcomers Virgin and HRT.

One of the most memorable moments of Kovalainen’s first year with the team came in Singapore, where his car caught fire in the closing laps and he tackled the conflagration himself with a fire extinguisher.

2011: Lotus

Kovalainen had Renault power behind him once more in 2011. But while the T128 was a step forward points remained a distant hope. A mid-season tie-up with Caterham showed the team was heading in a new direction.

2012: Caterham

Lotus was rebranded as Caterham for 2012 but despite the new name it was the same old story and Kovalainen endured a third point-less season.

With that he set an unenviable new benchmark, starting 60 races in a row without scoring a point, breaking the record formerly held by Piercarlo Ghinzani.

By the end of the season it was clear Kovalainen would not keep his place in the team for 2013, as they were one of several outfits in need of drivers who could bring funding for a drive.

Brazil was his 109th and last start but a slow pit stop early in the race kept him from playing a role in Caterham’s fierce battle with Marussia to claim tenth place in the constructors’ championship.

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Images © Renault/LAT, McLaren, Team Lotus, Caterham/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “Heikki Kovalainen’s F1 career in pictures”

  1. kovi was fast but weak minded and not strong enough in da head, a bit like fisichella.

    1. I didn’t think I would be seconding Hello Kitty today, but it must have been something like that. He had the pace to occasionally challenge Hamilton – which should have been enough to get some decent results in a McLaren – but in the races he failed too often. Very strange, and very sad too.

      In 2011, early 2012 it looked like he was going to make his way back up the grid again after impressing for Caterham, but now it seems like his nightmare season 2009 will prove his career-ender. Unless he returns, and we have seen stranger things already this season.

  2. I now remember how he was seen as almost a reject after that season at Renault. Didn’t Briatore critisize him much in the way that later Grosjean (and Piquet Jr.) got?

    To me its always felt that he had the potential for far more, if only he had been at different teams at different times.

    1. he needed a good coach or manager to put an arm around him. It’s a pity ’cause he was talented.

    2. He performed well against Fisichella in his first season but never seemed to get the hang of things at McLaren unfortunately. Took up the challenge of trying to turn a brand new team into a competitor but that never was meant to be. It’s a shame, because I was always a massive fan of Heikki.

  3. Kovalainen seemed a lot like a Fisichella. Did great things in a slower car but when he got his chance with a top team, he barely did anything to shine.

    1. @tommyb89 Fisi was brilliant when things went right, though. Kovy somehow wasn’t all that “crisp”.

  4. That 2009 McLaren… what a hideous monstruosity it was ! my god !

    1. Unfortunately Lewis won 2 races in it, while Heikki was nowhere. That is how he was judged in the end.

    2. Agreed, the worst looking McLaren since the MP4/10…and just as slow (for the first half of the year at least)!

    3. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      13th March 2013, 20:33

      @fer-no65 Well, that’s why I liked the cars in the previous 2008. Full of razorblades and things like that. And if you see the 2008 pics, all teams presented different wings and spoilers EVERY race. Amazing!!!

      1. @omarr-pepper Yes, im glad its not just me that thought that! The 2008 Ferrari in particular, was a thing of beauty

    4. It’s looks grew into me, much like most of the 09 grid, guess I’m a fan of short wheel-based racers.

  5. Lot of people hold him in very high regard thanks to his stint at Lotus/Caterham, but it’s clear he wasn’t quite top of the bill just looking at his McLaren years. He did very well against a Trulli that retired a couple of years later than he should have, not quite the accomplishment in my opinion. In 2008 and 2009, he wasn’t just outscored and outshined by Hamilton, he was destroyed. He’s a very likable guy but if I were a team owner I wouldn’t have hired him either…

  6. Shreyas Mohanty (@)
    13th March 2013, 13:47

    He was a great driver, IMO. Luck didn’t work out for him. If maybe Williams or Force India or Sauber had recognized his raw speed – he could have made it to the top some day. I will miss the guy. Adios Kovalainen!

  7. Always loved his crashing helmet’s designs, don’t you?

  8. ING livery…my eyes!! FOrgot how bad it was. :p

  9. Aww Heikki! I miss him already. He’s by far my favourite driver in the last decade. Such a nice guy, and while not lightning-quick, he was a decent-enough racer.

  10. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    13th March 2013, 14:55

    @keithcollantine hahaha you could have chosen a pic of his maiden victory, instead you chose the firefighter one.

    1. +1, I find the title along with a pic of burning flames cruel but hilarious too :)

  11. Sad, but at least he won a race, many leave without that opportunity.

  12. Hamilton was a clear number one driver in 2008 and 2009, too bad for Kovalainen

    1. perfect for mclaren

    2. Because Hamilton drove like a clear number one driver, in relation to Kovalainen.

      However, it would have been nice for Heikki to have a longer F1 career, seeing that he did well in 2007, 2010 and 2011.

  13. I know it wasn’t the greatest of careers but you could have at least put a picture of him on the top step in Hungary as the article’s main photo. The current one gave off an instant “He crashed and burned” impression.

    1. @nick-uk The pic does give the crash and burn impression. The sad thing is that he might be remembered more for playing fireman with his Lotus in Singapore in 2010.. which was visually spectacular.. than his victory or other achievements on the track.

  14. Thanks a lot for this nice article.

    I believe that Kovalainen is a great driver, who wasn’t in the right place at the right time. Just like Frentzen, Barrichello and Fisichella, he joined a top team that already had its star driver and, just like them, he didn’t succeed there. Button has done much better at McLaren but he arrived as the reigning world champion with 10 years experience in F1.

    Yes, one should look at Kovalainen’s F1 career realistically. 2007 was a rollercoaster ride, he showed flashes of excellence in 2008 and 2009 was disastrous. Three good years with a backmarker team followed after that. As David Coulthard would say, it is what it is. But Kovalainen’s good times prove that the potential has always been there. It just didn’t get unlocked in the right moments.

  15. Waste of talent to put a promising driver in a top team in his second year IMHO. He found the consistency years too late, and we’ll never see what that could’ve accomplished. Hopefully Perez won’t suffer the same fate.

  16. i like the guy. i’m sorry to see him out of f1, but i hope he’ll continue racing in other series i can watch. sadly, there was an artificial limit on his potential success at mclaren, and eventually he’s pushed out of the sport all together. i’ll take heikki over the bastor maldonado’s every time.

  17. Abdurahman (@)
    14th March 2013, 6:28

    “i’ll take heikki over the bastor maldonado’s every time.”

    I agree. I’m thankful for this article, I actually didn’t know he had even won a race! Good luck to him.

  18. I remember at the press conference after his win he said that he didn’t know how to celebrate the victory. Kimi, who also was on the podium (second?) said that he could show him…
    I guess you could not have a better guide.

  19. One thing about the years at McLaren was that these were the years of race fuel qualifying. Hamilton was always given the better strategy, the lighter car. Hamilton is very fast in qualifying, so to then have a slightly heavier car too can’t have made qualifying easy.

    I also believe, from the things Heikki have said, that there were issues from both his and the team’s side that made his two years there so bad. He was a completely different person when he came to Lotus/Caterham. A real shame that his new team couldn’t take the fight to the midpack.

    1. @metallion

      Hamilton was always given the better strategy, the lighter car.

      I don’t agree that the starting with a lighter car automatically equals a better fuel strategy. It depends how light the car is – we saw drivers take pole position with unrealistically light cars on some occasions.

      As I recall that year Hamilton did often have a lighter car, but not “always”:


      Returning to this subject after four years reminds how much I don’t miss refuelling, race-fuel qualifying and all that nonsense. Good riddance to it! It’s far better to have drivers qualifying on fumes again.

      1. @keithcollantine

        I probably exaggerated the “always” bit and of course, lighter isn’t always better if you have to make a very early pit stop , it needs to be balanced. But overall, I think it’s fair to say Hamilton had the advantage for strategy and fuel load.

        I definitely agree with you, it’s great that we no longer have to deal with race fuel qualifying. The worst part for me was when the teams had to make public the amount of fuel they were carrying. That lost any element of surprise or mystery and everyone knew each other’s strategies.

        I’ve not even reflected much on that we don’t have refuelling in the races anymore, since we still have pit stops. So yeah, I can’t say I miss it.

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