Kovalainen now in the running for 2014 race seat says Lotus boss
17 November, 2013
On the heels of an impressive showing on the first two days of practice and qualifying in Austin, Heikki Kovalainen has emerged as a surprise, late contender to drive for Lotus in 2014.
The Finn, Caterham’s ‘Friday’ driver this season, was drafted into Lotus’ race lineup for Austin when countryman Kimi Raikkonen headed for early back surgery.
It had previously been believed that the highly rated Nico Hulkenberg, or the well-funded Pastor Maldonado, were the only candidates to replace the Ferrari-bound Raikkonen full-time next year.
But Kovalainen has performed strongly from the first practice lap in Austin, qualifying eighth compared to teammate Romain Grosjean’s third on Saturday.
Team boss Eric Boullier admitted that the 32-year-old might have leapt into contention to race full-time for Lotus in 2014.
“He can be [an option],” the Frenchman told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3. ”It is true that he was not originally on the list, but if he’s doing well now, he can change our minds….I don’t know, anything is possible.”
The vacancy for Austin and Brazil was created when Raikkonen headed for back surgery ahead of schedule. But it has been reported his relationship with Lotus, which has broken down over a financial dispute, was the real reason.
“Money has little to do with it,” team owner Gerard Lopez insists. “We clarified that in Abu Dhabi – he will get his money.”
“Maybe his new employer advised him that it would be better to seek treatment as soon as possible,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
Indeed, Lopez suspects that Constructors’ Championship rival Ferrari might also have had something to do with Hulkenberg’s sudden unavailability for the seat in Austin and Brazil.
“It was too bad for us, but for sure also a shame for Nico. As I understand it, he was paid [by Sauber] all of a sudden, so he was no longer available to us,” he added. Hulkenberg’s salarary at Sauber had been in arrears due to the Swiss team’s financial difficulties, which would have meant that he could’ve skipped the last two races with Sauber (in order to race for Lotus) without fear of legal consequences for breach of contract. Sauber cars have long been Ferrari powered, and the two teams have a strong political alliance which has previously lead to suspicions by other teams of underhand dealings in order to benefit the Italian glamour team. (GMM)
Subbed by AJN.