Kovalainen returns to Caterham for practice sessions

2013 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham, Bahrain, 2013Heikki Kovalainen will return to Caterham to participate in free practice sessions for the team in the next two rounds.

Kovalainen raced for the team in the previous three seasons but was dropped at the end of last year.

“We are delighted to welcome him back into the team,” said team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

“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.”

Kovalainen will take over from Alexander Rossi who was originally slated to drive the car in the two sessions. Rossi will take the place of Ma Qing Hua in Caterham’s GP2 squad.

Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde will remain the team’s race drivers.

Cyril Abiteboul explained the changes: “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.”

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    Keith Collantine
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    76 comments on “Kovalainen returns to Caterham for practice sessions”

    1. So it would be like an extended test session for KOV, before he can jump back in the hot seat come Barcelona? VDG is in trouble.

      1. @sankalp88 Looks like they’re trying to make it happen. It does make it abundantly clear that money was the motivating factor change of driver line-up.

        I wonder if Kovalainen had an inkling this might happen and purposefully didn’t line up any opportunities elsewhere?

        1. I personally doubt that, I’m sure he made enquiries elsewhere to see if he could bring his services to other teams, such as Force India and Marrusia.

          It was clear that Caterham were going to struggle this year though. Two half rate drivers with a lot of money was never going to get them 10th or any points

        2. I’ve said from the beginning that 2013 is a transition year for Caterham. They took two pay-drivers, didn’t develope the car enough, moved their HQ etc. It all makes sense to put resources for 2014 and bring Kovalainen back.

          Pluss there was the news about Caterham+Marussia merger or whatever. So racing and fast car for this year hasn’t been the priority. But it must be for 2014.

          Current rookie lineup looks really bad for Caterham and Chilton for Marussia. I hope all the teams learned from it and in the future we will have less such moves – slow paydrivers in F1.

        3. I have a strong feeling Heikki will be lining up on the grid come Monaco…

        4. @keithcollantine and @sankalp88 Even I have a smell on that. But is it not strange to first sign up a VDG for money,move Heiki than again bring him as a driver development support role or whatever? I mean this team is just so confused, remember how they got Vitaly? This is not taking them anywhere I believe and I doubt if at all they are going to ditch VDG’s money to again start paying Heiki until he himself found some money. Marussia with respect to Caterham are doing a fantastic job despite not getting any prize money for past three seasons and the net loss the company has made. This is how you should say that ‘we are going long-term’.

    2. Dear Caterham, if you want to finish this season in 10th place, plonk him back in the car full-time.

      1. @scuderiavincero – It’s what they should have done from the start. Putting Kovalainen back in the car for practice sessions is pretty much an admission that they made a mistake getting rid of him.

        1. @prisoner-monkeys Indeed, I always knew they’d regret that move, one way or another. I actually groaned when they announced their driver lineup, as to even have a sliver of hope of making progress (standing still equates to moving backwards in my world), they needed a constant. Either that, or someone of the calibre of the top 4.

          Now the latter option is a bit unrealistic for Caterham, so former it is should have been.

        2. @prisoner-monkeys That got me thinking actually, when was the last time a top-rated driver moved to a backmarker team? My guess is Villeneuve to BAR.

          1. Depending on your definition of top. But Glock, Kova and Trulli in 2010 seems to fit the bill

            1. Well, by top I meant someone along Alonso/Vettel/Hamilton/Raikkonen’s level. Drivers who have battled for or won championships.

          2. Damon Hill, from Williams to Arrow 1997.

            1. And before that Schumacher to Ferrari?

    3. It looks like Caterham are struggling for direction within the development of this years car. Needing Heikki to be able to provide them a guage of where their car is at, perhaps where improvements can be made.

      That’d be my take on this…

      1. I think it’s more likely they are checking whether they’re struggling because of the car or the drivers. If Kovalainen is a lot faster in FP1 than the current Caterham drivers, they’ll most likely make him their race driver again. Bianchi has proven that having two pay drivers isn’t the way to go.

      2. Its ‘widely known’ that Caterham are plodding round in last years car, their focus is 2014…

        1. @schneeb – Well, their focus might not be on 2014 anymore if they realised they can’t trust their drivers enough to develop the cars and provide valuable info. And there might not be a 2014 at all if they lose the heap of cash destined for 10th in the WCC. Let’s not forget Caterham is one of the poor teams, regardless of its recent connections with Renault. They will need this year to go smooth as well in order to help finance the development of their 2014 car.

        2. In a nutshell: being dead last never helps.

          1. In a nutshell: being dead last never helps.

            @tony031r – lolz

        3. @schneeb I think it’s a bit of a running joke that Caterham say “The focus is next year”. It is next year… and still you’ve got nowhere.

    4. That is great news, can’t wait to see Heikki back in the car. This should give the team a big boost and should help them in th fight to try get back ahead of Marussia.

    5. Morale must be pretty low at caterham, they were closer to the midfield at the end of 2011 than they are now, currently slower than the lesser funded marussia and bianchi is looking good to get that highest finish for 10th place and a lot of $$$

    6. I suspect that they’ve seen Bianchi’s performances and realized that the driver can still make a much bigger difference in F1 than most people would think. That being said, I don’t think that Heikki is as good as many people on here do.

      1. Aditya (@adityafakhri)
        17th April 2013, 8:45

        @kingshark, I also think that Heikki isn’t that good, but arguably good enough to rise Caterham progress and challenged Marussia. In China we saw that Pic is only a few seconds behind Bianchi, what if Kovalainen was there? Each backmarker now only rely on single driver, so if Caterham really re-sign Heikki as race driver, they would change the whole game. (IMO)

      2. That being said, I don’t think that Heikki is as good as many people on here do.

        I agree. But he’s still a country mile ahead of both Pic and Van Der Garde, both in terms of skill, know-how and experience. And it isn’t a job for the likes of Alonso, Vettel or Hamilton either.

        1. Agreed. Pic was very good at Marussia but no doubt benefitted from Glock in terms of setup. Now he might be kind of lost.

          Caterham are finding out that chasing the quick dollar is not always the best game long term. Hopefully Kov can stick around to help with the 2014 project.

      3. Looking forward to lap time comparisons between Kov and Bianchi. Should be interesting. Maybe we’ll get to see them race against each other in the not so distant future.

      4. @kingshark

        Basically I agree with what everyone has replied.

        That being said, I don’t think that Heikki is as good as many people on here do.

        I personally have always thought he was way overrated! He was in the team that suited his skills! He can definitely shine around the backmarkers but doesn´t have enough to shine up top!
        As for VDG, he can kiss his seat goodbye! His practice sessions looked painfully slow in china!

    7. Great news from Caterham!!!

    8. Caterham new that getting rid of Heikki was a mistake but they did it so they could get pay drivers which they needed, but lookm after 3 races already they need Heikki to do some testing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him faster than the Marussias in FP1 this weekend.

    9. Finally they are back on the wise track

    10. “After Ma’s successful run in FP1 in China a number of new opportunities have arisen for him”

      Translation: after we fulfilled our marketing requirements by running Ma in FP1 in China, we are now free to kick him out for Alex Rossi.

      1. yeah I found that statement pretty bizzare as well

      2. Caterham doesn’t say where Ma has found any opportunity, he’s just been kicked.

        Ma’s 2013 Season:

        GP2 Series: Race 1 – Sepang (21st)
        GP2 Series: Race 2 – Sepang Did Not Started (unwell)
        F1: FP1: Shanghai

      3. THAT “successful” word……

    11. I’m surprised at how quickly the backmarker teams seem to be changing their minds: Kovalainen doing the free practices that were meant to go to Rossi, Rossi then replacing Ma Qing in GP2. And of course Marussia, who first replaced Glock with Razia, and mere weeks later replacing Razia with Bianchi. I think you can interpret it is a sign of financial trouble. But for now, let’s just hope Kovalainen’s outings will lead to him taking over either Total’s or McGregor’s seat.

    12. new angry birds crash helmet perhaps

    13. Just out of curiosity: Assuming that Caterham will make Kovalainen their race driver after Barcelona, are there other cases (in recent history) where a team has dropped their race driver only to take him back a couple of races later?

      1. Sauber dropped Nick Heidfeld at the end of 2009 but he returned for the final fly away races in 2010, if that counts

        1. And the driver he replaced…Pedro de La Rosa also drove in the 2011 Canadian GP after being dropped in 2010, replacing the injured Perez.

    14. Another prove that pay drivers are not the solution.

    15. bianchi has just raised the bar for everyone..

      1. @venom
        Totally agree with this! I bet all those pay drivers are cursing at him in the back of their minds!

        He has definitely shown so far! I´ll eat my hat if he doesn´t move to a bigger team for next season!

    16. Whoops somebody along the food chain must have lost their funding.

        1. @keithcollantine Am I the only one that thinks that VDG will get dropped in favour of Hua? I think running him in China FP1 opened up some possible sponsorship deals. Enough so that they can take on Heikki again and now need to reshuffle the roster a bit…

          1. look at that link @chapor, its pretty clear that the one having trouble to bring the cash is Ma Qing Hua, and that his new exiting “role in the team” will get closer to Yamamoto being a DJ for Marussia’s (then Virgin) parties than a reserve driver who will get any car time.

            1. @bascb Ah… Should have looked at that first.

    17. Translation: “We are unhappy with our current inexperienced driver line-up that haven’t been able to give the feedback we need to improve the car, and need a better driver in order to at least put up a fight against Marussia and Bianchi,”

    18. Good opportunity for Bianchi to go up against an experienced F1 driver.

    19. I bet that he will be racing in Canada…

      1. Might be worth putting a quid on.

      2. I think he will by Monaco…

    20. To me, this shows pretty much what I stated when Caterham announced their line-up for 2013: Caterham need a coherent marker in order to identify where their car is at the moment, performance-wise. Pic and Van Der Garde are too much of an unknown quantity in order to get relevant data for the team, as they risk hindering the car’s development.

      The question is, what if Kovalainen proves to be at least on par with Bianchi (or a mile ahead of both Pic and Van Der Garde, for that matter) after these two practice sessions? If Heikki manages to show there’s something worthwhile in that Caterham, contrary to what we’ve seen so far, then I think he’s got himself his race seat back.

      Catherham might have gone through their budget again and realised they’re better off paying Kovalainen’s salary than losing the money for 10th place in the WCC.

      1. PS: I still think Marussia will beat them senseless this year.

    21. I don’t understand. Did they honestly not expect this issue when opting for an all new line up with one inexperienced driver and one rookie?

      I know this is going to sound like an arm-chair expert opinion, but it’s times like this where I think some F1 bosses lack foresight and only think of the short term gains.

      Look at Sauber, Gutierrez looks completely out of his depth and it seems like Sauber may struggle to beat Force India and Toro Rosso despite having Hulkenberg. Sure, they will receive a lot of money from Telmex but they are likely to lose two positions (or just one as Force India maybe too fast for them anyway) in the WCC, hence they will lose the money they could have won and will not be as attractive to new sponsors.

    22. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Kovy will be racing just yet.
      The team are presumably in dire straits with their money, otherwise they wouldn’t have got rid of Heikki in the first place.
      I do not believe the practice runs are a warm up for a race return. I simply think it’s a short-term deal until they can find another driver with a sponsorship package.

      1. Not necessarily strapped for cash, maybe just got a bit greedy and over excited with the quality of their line up.

        As you say this is an indicator of the possibility of a drive rather than a forgone conclusion.

        1. I bet they are strapped for cash. In the current climate I expect every team other than Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes are living hand to mouth at the moment.

          1. I would leave McLaren out of that group. Hiring Perez is also looking more like a cash grab by the day.

      2. A combination of Ma not bringing the funds, and the team welcoming any help to get that car moving fast they can (and surely a usefull push for their race drivers too)

    23. Well, let’s wait and see. VDG looks rubbish, I’m afraid, but maybe he can improve. Maybe KOV can help, maybe KOV can do nothing.
      But I think it’s all a bit fishy.

      1. KOV returns as Driver Training Manager?

    24. Happy days!! My favourite driver is back… kinda. Hopefully he gets a fully-fledged seat next season :)

    25. As a fan of Heikki and Finnish drivers in general, safe to say I’m rather happy! I was gutted to see him ousted in the first place and this is some sort of consolation. I reckon it won’t be long at all before he’s back in a race seat.

    26. Ma was/is a terrible driver. He had to be lifted out of his GP2 car in Malaysia because he was so tired he couldn’t even lift himself out of the car. That they had him drive around in an F1 car was even more ridiculous. It makes pay commercial drivers look good.

      God, I’m happy Heiki gets a shot at driving again, his tweets may have been quite entertaining but the man simply belongs on track.

    27. yay, kovalainen is a great driver! now kick VDG out of his seat and put kovalainen in, it’s the only way caterham will have a chance with fighting against marussia!

      want to win, hire a finn :)

    28. surely he’ll be in the race seat in the next few races…theyre not putting him a practice session for nothing, and no doubt he’ll go quicker than Van der garde. I say by he’ll be in the driving seat by Monaco

    29. Looks that way, I think they’ll be evaluating how bad or good the current drivers are, Kovi is a good yardstick. If Kovi is a lot quicker, I think they’ll bin VDG very quickly.

    30. petebaldwin (@)
      17th April 2013, 23:36

      I give it 2 races until Kovalainen is back in the seat. Once Kovalainen batters Van Der Garde’s quali time in FP1 twice, Caterham will look ridiculous not making the change and will be forced into it.

      1. Heikki is good, but not that good. The track in Bahrain is usually pretty dusty in FP1, and it will evolve quite a bit from FP1 to quali.

    31. I find it slightly odd that Ma cannot find at least 1 sponsor from China who’s economy has been a monster growth till recently. No money no Ma.

    32. even though caterham should have kept either Kovalainen/Petrov i think this is a smart movie to counter the skilful Bianchi. Pic is doing a good job keeping up with Bianchi but i beleive that Caterham need a more experienced driver like Kovalainen who has the skills to challenge and beat Bianchi and the two williams drivers. Lets just hope they sign him before Monaco. i also think that if marussia didnt sign bianchi i think caterham (pic) would be ahead of the 2 marussias.

    33. I nearly swallowed my own tongue when I heard they were getting rid of Kovy and Petrov, then I very nearly choked when I heard who was replacing them. In my opinion they should have kept Kovy and Petrov.

    34. @keithcollantine So I see Heiki went back to his old helmet. I did notice one thing, It might be nothing but who knows? He’s got the Number 20 on the helmet while he was driving the 21 car. Perhaps he knows something we don’t, or he’s driving Pics car in Spain and I’m seeing things that aren’t there.

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