Kovalainens path to Renault stardom 06 Sep 2006
Born in the Finnish town of Suomussalmi on October 19, 1981, Heikki Kovalainen always looked destined to be a racer. When he became a member of Renaults Driver Development Programme in 2002, he already had more than a decade of race experience behind him. This year he has served as Renaults official third driver and next season he makes the final step - a Formula One race seat. We take a look at Kovalainens route to the top
1991 - 2000: Karting
Karting was where Kovalainen cut his teeth. He soon made a name for himself on the national and international stage. After finishing runner-up in the Finnish Formula A championship in 1999 and 2000, while becoming Scandinavian Champion and winning the Elf Masters at Bercy in the Millennium year, Kovalainen was identified as a rising talent in the sport. He was elected driver of the year in Finland in 2000.
2001: Formula Renault - British Championship
Kovalainens first season in cars came in the highly competitive British Formula Renault championship. He was soon spotted as he learned the ropes. A fourth-place championship finish saw him take Rookie of the Year honours, with two wins, two poles and three fastest laps.
2002: Formula Three
Competing in British F3, Kovalainen took third in the championship on his debut season in this prestigious series. Five wins, three poles and three fastest laps once again made him Rookie of the Year. He also demonstrated strong form in the international rounds, with second place in Macao and fourth place at the Zandvoort Marlboro Masters.
2003 - 2004: World Series by Nissan
Kovalainens approach to the new championship was simple: a year to learn, and win the following season. Having finished second on his debut year in 2003, the Finn took the title with the Pons team in 2004. He also had his first Formula One test, and began learning about the demands of driving a Grand Prix car.
2005: GP2 Series
In the debut season of GP2, the new feeder series for Formula One racing, the championship attracted a strong field of young drivers determined to make their mark. Kovalainen aimed to build a championship challenge with the Arden team. A strong start to the year saw him take wins in the opening rounds with relative ease. As the competition intensified, Kovalainen lost out to future Williams star Nico Rosberg in the final standings, but nevertheless amply demonstrated his abilities.
2006: Formula One, Renault third driver
As an official member of the Renault team, Kovalainen shouldered a large part of the development work for the 2006 championship campaign, alongside team mates Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella. He impressed the team with his technical feedback, rate of progress and natural speed at the wheel of the car, acquiring a solid technical background during more than 18,000 km of testing.