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.