Official confirmation is forthcoming from the Lotus team this morning, but it’s opted for a fellow Finn in Heikki Kovalainen to deputize for the injured Kimi Raikkonen in the last 2 Grands Prix of the Formula One season.
Kovalainen, Caterham’s reserve driver, has driven in free practice one in a handful of races this year, but has not made a race start since the 2012 season finale in Brazil. He has six years of F1 race experience and a prior history with Enstone-based Lotus in its previous incarnation as Renault, as both test driver and race driver. He made his race debut with the team in 2007.
The tricky part here is that Kovalainen is under contract to Caterham – the former Lotus. Attempting to break free of the contractual issues that that presents is likely what’s caused the hold-up in the official announcement.
While Kovalainen is a solid, veteran shoe who no doubt can help Lotus in its quest to finish higher up in the Constructor’s Championship, the news is no doubt a gut punch to Lotus’ own reserve driver Davide Valsecchi, the 2012 GP2 champion who will be denied his opportunity for a Grand Prix debut.
Lotus is the only team to have a midseason driver change for the second consecutive year. Its 2012 reserve, Jerome d’Ambrosio, filled in for Romain Grosjean at the Italian Grand Prix. Valsecchi, despite being the obvious choice on paper, has been spurned almost from the get-go.
Autosport had reported Michael Schumacher was asked to fill in, in what would have been another reunion. Schumacher raced for Lotus when it was still called Benetton, from 1991 through 1995, and won his first two World Championships. But, like his comeback that wasn’t in 2009 with Ferrari, the seven-time champ will stay on the sidelines.