Exclusive interview with Heikki Kovalainen
27 February 2012 – 2012 marks Heikki Kovalainen’s sixth season in Formula 1 and third with Caterham, formerly known as Team Lotus. It’s a year in which regular Q2 qualifying is expected as the 30-year-old Finn targets a gradual rise up the grid. He speaks candidly and exclusively with GPUpdate.net.
When this team entered F1 in 2010, there was always a highly positive mood in the garage and motorhome. Are things more pressurised nowadays?
I don’t think so. There is a still a really great environment and I enjoy working here. But of course the targets are higher: everybody wants to move up towards the front of the grid and the middle of the pack, first of all. Everyone is very motivated and a lot of effort has gone into the car over the winter. I’m really excited.
You have a new team-mate this year, as Vitaly Petrov comes in from Lotus Renault GP. How much will you miss Jarno (Trulli)?
I got on really well with Jarno. I think we became good friends over the last couple of years. I knew him before, but obviously not so well. I think we pushed the team together very hard and worked very well together, both on and off the track. But it was a team decision and now I’m working with Vitaly, who is also a pro driver. I think we will work well together and we need to work together to push the team forward. He is a strong driver as well, so I expect him to be pushing me, I will push him and I will try to stay ahead of him. It’s a normal situation, really.
You seem more of a team leader now – fair comment?
Vitaly will have the same service. Jarno had the same and there is no preference there. I am just happy that I have been able to, I think, earn my place in the team over these two years. When I arrived I don’t think I was driving particularly well. My performance level wasn’t particularly good at that time – I think I lost some performance in the early part of my Formula 1 career…
…after your time with McLaren, you mean?
And Renault as well. Even there I don’t think I was performing at the level I was in the junior categories - that sort of young, ‘promising Heikki’ was missing. Things seemed difficult and that is why I wanted to take a step back, go back to a starting point and go to a team new to give me time to find the swing again, if you like. Because all of the promise had seemed to be there and then Formula 1 was difficult. Things weren’t functioning. I was driving some good cars and I wasn’t able to put in good results, so I started wondering what was wrong with me? I sat down with a lot of friends and family and made a lot of changes to a lot of routines I had. A complete, overall reshuffle of everything. I think things worked really well and I feel back to the normal level performance I was at when I was younger, but now with experience behind me. I’m comfortable in the paddock now. The bad moments I do have don’t bother me so much. If we keep improving, I will happily stay here.
You appear to enjoy a very settled personal life. How much does that help?
My girlfriend Catherine is a great supporter and she was one of the first people to say that things weren’t working in my career like they did previously. She didn’t think it was right and she got me thinking that we needed to change a lot of routines and change the way I went in Formula 1. Things between us work really well and she done a lot of stuff for myself with the team. I now have IMG on-board for management, which will allow her to step down and do some other stuff she wants to do, which I think is fair enough. She has done a lot of stuff for me but I also understand that she has things she wants to do for herself. I am now really looking forward to working with IMG; I think it will allow me to spend more time working with the team and with the engineers and actually get more performance out of myself.
Will your new management be coming to every race?
They will be. Previously, there would be many things I was doing with my girlfriend over the race weekends and it got to a point when I felt we shouldn’t be doing emails, phone calls or those kinds of things – it needs to be professional, global people doing that in order to serve the team better. Not myself and Catherine…we can’t always give the right answer. So I think the new setup will benefit everybody.