Heikki Kovalainen will begin a new chapter in his career when the re-born Lotus team begins testing at Jerez next week.
Speaking at the London launch of the new T127, the Finn explained why he is so excited about Lotus, why he chose the new team and how it is already performing beyond his own expectations. AUTOSPORT was there to hear what the former Renault and McLaren driver had to say.
Q. What do you make of the new car?
Heikki Kovalainen: First of all I think it looks very cool. I think the whole visual side looks really good. From what I've been following from the time in the factory and talking to the mechanics, the quality of the design and the build has also been very good. So that all looks positive. The shakedown that we did on Tuesday went pretty well, we had just the small problems, nothing major, so fingers crossed it's all going to be fine at Jerez. The performance we don't really know yet until we do a few laps and see.
Q. Has it lived up to your expectations so far?
HK: Better than what I had expected. We are a bit ahead of schedule in terms of the design and build of the car. How everything is shaping up at the factory as well has been better than I expected, it looks very good there as well. The actual operation side, in terms of everybody working at the factory, looks normal to me compared to what I have been used to before because all the people that are in the team are current people. They are not people that have been away for two or three years.
They are people from last year, people from some different teams that have just finished their notice period and come to our team. So that actually works very normally. It feels like a routine already for the boys, so that is also pretty convincing.
Q. What made you go for a new team this year, as opposed to an established one?
HK: I had different options as well at the end of last year and some of those were with more established teams, but at the end I made the decision myself because I saw the most potential in this project. Talking to Tony [Fernandes] and Mike [Gascoyne] convinced me and only the future will tell whether it was a good or bad decision, but so far I have no regrets and so far it has been better than expected.
Q. What was the potential based on?
HK: Tony is a very good businessman and he has a very impressive CV. For me the financial backing of the team looked convincing and that the money would be there to get the team going. We can build a reasonable sized team, and I think eventually when everybody is on we are going to have 260 people - which is around the size of Sauber. That's pretty good.
We have a facility that is not quite ready yet but eventually we will be able to design and produce parts there. This is also for me a message that we could make decent progress during the year in terms of improving the performance of the car. Those two things were major points - then obviously having Mike being at the head of the technical team was the third major point that I based my decision on. Like I said, so far no regrets and this team has a lot of potential to become a very professional and successful team - even in the medium term.
Q. What is the medium term?
HK: Three years. I think we can achieve some decent results in this time.
Q. You are obviously naturally gifted, can Lotus give you the opportunity to thrive in a way you think you are capable of?
HK: I certainly hope so. I think the best races in my Formula 1 career are still ahead of me. That's how I was determined not to go anywhere else but Formula 1. Even the last two years, in fact all my time in F1 I have had difficult races, but also I had good races and I think here I will have the opportunity to produce good results and get more out of the team regularly. That's what I am working on.
Q. How do you see the challenge to Jarno Trulli compared to that you faced against Lewis Hamilton?
HK: First of all over the last two years people have asked me these questions many times, and some of the stuff has been taken out of context so I am not going to go there. So let's go for the future. I'm really looking forward to working with Jarno. He is obviously a very quick driver and I think we can push each other and also we get on well on a personal level. I think we can push the team forward and that is crucial from the beginning.
Mike is demanding a lot from us and I have spent already a few weeks at Hingham, just everyday talking to the engineers. They ask me questions and I try to answer them in a way that gives me a clear direction, and this is what we have to do with Jarno. I'm not worried about my team-mate - I've never been worried about my team-mate we push each other and that is what we try to do.