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.
MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.
Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
- 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish
Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.
While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.
Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.
Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.
In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.