Heikki Kovalainen is a racing driver from Finland, best-known as a pilot who spent seven years in the Formula 1 World Championship with four teams (Renault, McLaren Lotus and Caterham). He won one race, the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2008.
Before his debut in F1, he was a World Series by Nissan champion in 2004 and second in the 2005 GP2 Series. In a post-F1 career, he won Japanese Super GT Series title in 2016.
Early success in karting competitions
Heikki Kovalainen was born in October 1981 in the small municipality of Suomussalmi in eastern Finland. His father competed in the races on ice, so Heikki was involved in the world of motorsport since his childhood.
As a boy, Kovalainen started to drive karting and when he was 10 began to compete. Until 2000, Heikki won many titles, including Nordic championship and the Elf Masters kart event in Paris. In 2000, he also finished 3rd in the World Formula Super A championship and was named the Finnish Kart Driver of the Year.
Racing in the British Formula Renault and Formula 3
In 2001, Kovalainen moved to the United Kingdom where he entered British Formula Renault championship, driving for Fortec Motorsport. He scored two wins and had a total of five podiums before finishing 4th overall.
Kovalainen left the series and entered British Formula 3, again driving for Fortec. The season of 2002 was pretty good for the Finn who won 5 out of 26 races, had other 7 podiums and took 3rd place overall, behind Robbie Kerr and James Courtney, but was named Rookie of the Year. Heikki also finished 2nd in the Macau Grand Prix, losing to Tristan Gommendy.
Heikki Kovalainen was World Series by Nissan champion
The next challenge in Kovalainen’s career was World Series by Nissan. In his first season, he finished as a runner-up after he has won one race comparing to nine scored by his teammate Franck Montagny who won the title.
In 2004, Heikki was crowned as a champion. Driving for Pons Racing, he won 6 out of 18 races, finished 2nd in four races and once was 3rd. The Finn won the title with a margin of 32 points to the runner-up Tiago Monteiro and also beat some other well-known names like Enrique Bernoldi, Narain Karthikeyan, and Olivier Pla.
Race of Champions winner in 2004
At the end of 2004, the Finn found himself in the international spotlight when he won the Race of Champions in Paris, beating David Coulthard, Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Loeb one after another what was a big and surprising success.
He returned to Paris in 2005. After defeating Bernd Schneider and Felipe Massa, he lost in semi-finals to Tom Kristensen. The consolation arrived in 2006 when Heikki triumphed in the Nations Cup driving alongside Marcus Gronholm while in the following year they lost in final.
GP2 Series runner-up in 2005
After an excellent year, Kovalainen was ready for the new challenge. He became a driver of Arden International in the GP2 Series what was an excellent opportunity to attract the attention of Formula 1 teams.
It was another good season for the Finn who was a title contender until the end of the season. Heikki won five races and scored other seven podiums before the final round in Bahrain where Nico Rosberg won both races and won the title, 15 points ahead of Kovalainen.
Formula 1 debut with Renault in 2007
Since 2004, Kovalainen acted as one the Renault F1’s test and reserve drivers and after the stream of good results in other series, the preparations for promoting the Finn as a race driver began in 2006. That year Heikki spent as a full-time test driver before he was put in the team in 2007 as a substitute for Fernando Alonso.
Kovalainen’s rookie seasob in Formula 1 was pretty good. He scored points in 11 of 17 races with a 2nd place in the Japanese Grand Prix as the highlight. Another interesting fact is that the Finn retired only once, in Brazil, in the last race of the season. At the end of the season, Heikki was 7th with 30 points in his books what was a very good achievement.
Move to McLaren team
When Alonso returned to Renault for the season of 2008, Kovalainen was left without a drive but had offers from Toyota and McLaren. He decided to join the British team and to drive alongside Lewis Hamilton. At the same time, he became the fourth driver from Finland in the team’s history.
His first year with McLaren was the best in Heikki’s Formula 1 career. He scored his first and only F1 victory, in the Hungarian Grand Prix, finished 2nd at Monza and 3rd in Malaysia. Kovalainen earned points in other eight Grand Prix races and with a total of 53 points, again finished 7th place in the Drivers’ championship.
The following campaign wasn't so successful, especially in the first half. Heikki scored only once in eight races, finishing 5th in the Grand Prix of China, but later the things improved. He collected points in six consecutive races before finishing 12th overall with 22 points.
Two years with Lotus
Kovalainen again was left without an engagement when McLaren brought Jenson Button at the end of 2009. However, he signed with Lotus soon after but had a horrible year. Heikki finished the season empty-handed, failing to collect a single point. His best result was 12th place in the Japanese Grand Prix what was a really poor result considering previous two years.
Unfortunately, the season of 2011 was even worse. Kovalainen took 22nd place in the Drivers’ championship, again never being close to picking the points. The 13th place in the Italian Grand Prix was best he achieved during that miserable year.
Lotus became Caterham, but the results were the same
In 2013, Kovalainen stayed with the team which was renamed to Caterham. The name change was the only change that happened that year. The Finn retired only in the opening race in Australia and later managed to finish the following 19, but again the results were bad. Kovalainen mostly was at the back of the grid, so he took 22nd place overall, again without points.
Heikki was downgraded to test driver in 2013 but got an opportunity in the final two races of the year, replacing injured Kimi Raikkonen. He finished 14th in both US and Brazilian Grand Prix. Those races were last for the Finn in Formula 1 and he had to find a new team.
Departure to Japan and title in second season
After unsuccessful try to earn a deal with BMW in DTM, Kovalainen sat out the whole 2014. In the following year, Kovalainen moved to Japan to drive in Super GT championship’s GT500 class. Driving a Team SARD’s Lexus RC F GT500 alongside Kohei Hirate, he finished 13th in the final standings.
Heikki stayed with a team in 2016 and he won the championship title, together with Hirate. They won only one race, the last round at Motegi, but they also finished 2nd in three races - at Fuji Speedway, Sportsland SUGO, and in the first race at Motegi.
In 2017, Kovalainen and Hirate were defending GT500 class title in the #1 Lexus LC500. They were race winners in the fourth round at Sportsland Sugo but they are not in a contention for a championship title, finishing just 8th in the points, In 2018, Kovalainen returned to the #39 car and get Kamui Kobayashi as his new co-driver. They won Super GT race in Thailand and Heikki finished ninth in the points.