Born on October 19th, 1981 in Suomussalmi in Finland, Heikki Kovalainen joined the ranks of Formula One drivers in 2007 when he was signed to a race seat at the reigning champions, Renault.
Kovalainen started karting at ten years old, and continued to kart for a further nine. During this time spent honing his skills, Heikki won many awards and titles, and was also announced as Finnish Driver Of The Year.
After karting, Heikki moved on to the Formula Renault series, and with two wins, two poles and three fastest laps, he became the Rookie Of The Year. 2002 was to be a year of British Formula Three, as he progressed through the ranks quickly. In only his debut season, Kovalainen finished third in the championship, and took five wins and another three fastest laps. In 2003, Heikki competed in the World Series by Nissan, and finished in a credible second. The following year, in 2004, he took the title with the Pons team, and was awarded his first Formula One test.
In 2005, Heikki moved to the GP2 Series – the now recognised feeder to Formula One and once named Formula 3000 – and raced with the Arden International team. Kovalainen performed well, especially in the first part of the year. However, with so many young stars competing, the field was strong and competition was hard. Heikki eventually lost out on the title to Nico Rosberg, who went on to drive for Williams in 2006. He had though, demonstrated his abilities well and Renault gave Heikki the opportunity to become their test driver and Friday Free Practice tester.
2006 was a year spent learning the ropes at Renault. He managed to log over 20,000km on the track, and his hard work paid off with the team gaining a second constructors title and lead driver Fernando Alonso took the drivers crown. With this, Alonso decided to leave the Renault team, and team boss Flavio Briatore awarded Kovalainen’s performances with a full time race drive for 2007, partnering the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella.
Kovalainen’s debut at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix could have gone better. The Finn was hopelessly off the pace and struggled to keep his Renault R27 on the tarmac. Team boss Flavio Briatore was fuming after the event stating that Heikki had to improve quickly. And improve he did. By the end of the season, Kovalainen was equaling and even outpacing his experienced team mate Giancarlo Fisichella. Heikki’s 30 points helped the team to retain some credibility in the sport, and he even managed to claim nine more than Fisichella who finished with just 21.
However, the possibility of Fernando Alonso returning to the team caused some unsettling with both Renault drivers, and although Fisichella had tested with Force India, Kovalainen continued to pound the circuits with the R27. His efforts were in vein though as Heikki was unceremoniously dumped from the squad in favour of Nelson Piquet Jr.
Kovalainen’s future was secured though, with a helping hand from Ron Dennis and his McLaren team. Partnering Lewis Hamilton for 2008, Heikki received a real confidence boost when he moved to the Woking team.