America’s most recent Formula One World Champion, Mario Andretti, laughed when I asked him if Lotus asked him to fill in for the injured Kimi Raikkonen.
As for the actual replacement for Raikkonen – Finnish countryman Heikki Kovalainen – Andretti couldn’t help but praise the veteran who hadn’t even sat in the chassis until Thursday.
“Heikki’s been very comfortable there from the word go,” said the Circuit of the Americas ambassador and racing legend. “For him to do so well part-time is an incredible effort.”
Kovalainen ended fifth on Friday – fitting right in with the team – and made Q3 this afternoon to start P8. Teammate Romain Grosjean unleashed the E21’s full potential with a run to third in qualifying, continuing his excellent run of form in the second half of the season.
Andretti also opined on two of F1’s most iconic teams, each of whom has struggled at times this season. He said he was “surprised” by Ferrari’s relative lack of pace – Fernando Alonso struggled to sixth while Felipe Massa failed to advance out of Q2, in 15th.
As for McLaren, which made Q3 with Sergio Perez, Andretti said they’ve punched above their weight this weekend as they hold onto fifth place in the Constructor’s Championship.