Guest Author - Christine Blachford
Heikki Kovalainen was born in 1981 in Finland, and like many other Finnish drivers, worked his way up through karting to single seater racing. He participated in Formula Renault, Formula Three and World Series by Nissan before heading up to the F1 feeder series, GP2.
Kovalainen made a good start by winning the inaugural race of the new series, and amassed a good lead in the championship. Unfortunately, Nico Rosberg came through from behind with his team and won the title, with Heikki coming second. However, the disappointment was short-lived, as Renault signed him up as their test driver. He got a full race drive for 2007, moving up to join Fisichella and replace Alonso who had transferred to McLaren. Heikki made his F1 race debut in Australia that year.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a great race for the rookie, and team boss Flavio Briatore was extremely harsh in his criticism, infamously proclaiming that Heikki's brother must have taken the car - it was that bad. The rest of his season was pretty anonymous, except for one enormous crash. The Renault wasn't performing as well as it had for the previous two years, and the team were clearly suffering the loss of Alonso.
When the Spaniard returned to Renault for 2008, Kovalainen moved across to McLaren, the second time he had stepped into Alonso's shoes. Teamed up with Lewis Hamilton, it seemed obvious from the start that he would be number two to McLaren's favourite. Nevertheless, Heikki seemed to fit in the team much better than he had at Renault, and despite not performing as well as his team mate, his confidence seemed to grow as the season moved on. Kovalainen did win a race this year, but even he admits that it was a stroke of luck. The Hungarian Grand Prix saw Massa's dominant lead trashed when his engine blew up, leaving the Finn to become the 100th different Grand Prix winner.
For the coming season, Heikki will need to continue to improve his performance and prove that he can fight with Hamilton on track. Lewis will be the defending World Champion so it will be an interesting battle between the two, if Heikki can make it work.
Please visit the forums to let me know your thoughts on Heikki - whether he can make it as a future champion, and how he's going to get on this year.