Is Heikki Kovalainen too good a loser?

Have you noticed how happy Heikki Kovalainen seems this year? A few commentators have pointed out the positive way he is carrying himself, with happy body language. It is a world away from the stiff McLaren driver of old, or even the reserved Renault driver of a few years ago.

Perhaps we are only noticing because of his time at McLaren, a team thought of as being cold and clinical. The list of ex-McLaren drivers who speak in unfavourable terms about their time with the team is almost as long as the list of ex-McLaren drivers. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Kovalainen felt suffocated by McLaren’s approach.

But even so, it is quite surprising that Heikki Kovalainen would seem to be at ease with himself just now. Struggling to find a drive, he ended up signing for Lotus, one of the new teams with no chance of success in the near future. Instead of reasonably being able to expect to challenge for points at every race, his main target now is to actually finish the race, preferably ahead of a Virgin if he can manage it.

So why is it all smiles in camp Kovalainen? Could it be that he actually prefers to lose?

For a while, I have felt that Kovalainen is one of those drivers that lacks that killer instinct that separates the great from the good. For two years Kovalainen drove for a team that was well capable of winning races, as demonstrated by Lewis Hamilton. Yet, he only managed to win one — and that was a fluke because he inherited the lead after Felipe Massa’s engine blew.

With the pressure to perform now nothing like as high, and with a team mate in Jarno Trulli whose career is in its dying days, it is understandable that Kovalainen would feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off his shoulders. But it is odd to see someone seem so cheerful to be in 18th position in a sport that is meant to be full of intensely competitive individuals.


  1. Do you not think that, at least in part, he’s happy to be contributing to the team? No doubt in his rookie season at Renault, nobody took his opinion very seriously; at McLaren, Hamilton was the golden boy. Now he has a chance to express his opinions about the car and help build the team – maybe the ‘family’ feeling that Lotus seems to foster, and the freedom they allow their drivers is suiting him better than the more rigid teams?

  2. I think Heikki’s happy that he’s finally being set a target he can hit. At Renault, the team was putting pressure on itself to win, but for no fault of Kovalainen’s, that was impossible with the R27. At McLaren, the subconscious target was to be adjacent to Hamilton, which Heikki simply couldn’t do.

    But now, Heikki can maximise the Lotus with internal resources to spare. He can grow with the team, be comfortable and generally enjoy his racing. Maybe that will make him a journeyman, but it will make him one that can endure the challenges of that position and one useful to several F1 teams.

  3. I think the “family” atmosphere is a bit factor here. He obviously feels part of the team in a way he would never have done at Renault or McLaren.

    I would also not be surprised if he likes being the underdog. In one of the new teams you can take one of two approaches.

    1) “Bugger, what have I done, my career is over” as seems to be the case judging Glock and Trulli’s demeanour
    2) “Wahay, I’m still in F1 and I just love racing in F1!” as seems to be the case with Kovi and the HRT guys and to a lesser extent Schuie too.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone. Sorry it’s taken me a little while to respond.

    I definitely think there is something in the idea of the family atmosphere at Lotus, and being part of building the new team and re-building the Lotus brand in F1.

    It’s a long term game to play though, and as David S points out, Timo Glock would probably not be so happy. Glock probably has every right to feel upset with his decision. If the rumours are correct, he turned down a Renault deal because of uncertainty about the team’s future. I bet he feels like a bit of a plank for that now!