Kovalainen returns to help Caterham F1

Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen has spent three of his six years in F1 with the Caterham team.

Story highlights

  • Heikki Kovalainen to return to Caterham after losing seat with the team in 2013
  • Finnish racer will drive for Caterham in first practice in Bahrain and Barcelona
  • Caterham want his help in understanding 2013 car and tire behavior
  • U.S. racer Alexander Rossi takes over Caterham GP2 drive from China's Ma Qing Hua

Heikki Kovalainen is returning to Formula One to help the team that fired him.

The experienced Finnish driver is taking on a new technical development role at Caterham to help them understand why they have fallen behind their back-of-the-grid rivals Marussia.

Kovalainen will return to the cockpit in first practice for the next two grands prix in Bahrain and Spain.

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"It's great news that I'll be on track," the 31-year-old said. "I'm really looking forward to getting back to work and helping the team as much as I can.

"I'll be taking part in the two sessions to give the team my input on the new parts we're bringing to those races, and I'll be working closely with the race drivers and the engineers on track to help everyone get the most out of the new package.

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"I'm physically ready to get back into the car and I know my experience can help give the team new ideas and options for directions to take on setup and strategy."

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Kovalainen made his F1 debut in 2007 and went on to win his first race in Hungary as a McLaren driver the following year before moving to Caterham -- then called Lotus -- when they joined the grid in 2010.

But the Kovalainen lost his seat at CNN-sponsored Caterham in 2013 because he was not a "pay driver" -- which meant he did not bring any money to the team.

Caterham hired Frenchman Charles Pic from Russian rivals Marussia and Dutch rookie Giedo van der Garde for this season, but have fallen to 11th out of 11 teams in the constructors' championship, behind Marussia, after the first three races.

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It is important to finish inside the top 10 because that entitles teams to a greater share of the sport's revenue and prize money.

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Caterham bosses hope new developments on their 2013 car will help them catch up on the Marussia and close the gap on the midfield runners.

But team principal Cyril Abiteboul says that task relies on using the experience of Kovalainen, who had been with the team since they first turned a wheel.

"Heikki has six years of F1 experience behind him so he is perfectly placed to provide us objective feedback on the various types of configurations we will run and to give us an objective view of the 2013 tires against his experience with the 2012 compounds," Abiteboul explained.

"Having invested in Heikki for our first three years of competition it would be a waste not to leverage the valuable expertise he brings.

"As F1 is a team sport, he will also provide support to Charles and Giedo, who are both doing a good job in their first months with the team."

The restructuring of Caterham's line-up means Ma Qing Huang -- who made history when he became the first Chinese racer to drive in front of his home crowd during practice at the last race in Shanghai -- loses his role as the team's reserve as well as his place in Caterham's GP2 team.

The 25-year-old will stay on Catherham's driver roster, but his role has yet to be announced.

U.S. driver Alexander Rossi will remain the second team reserve, but will take over Ma's seat in the GP2 championship -- which is the official feeder F1 series for the next generation of drivers.

Kovalainen's return to F1 coincides with discussions between tire supplier Pirelli and the sport's chief Bernie Ecclestone about the possibility of running young drivers on a new tire compound in first practice to give them vital experience in F1.

There are five drivers -- Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi of Marussia, Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Van der Garde of Caterham -- who joined F1 in 2013 with limited experience of driving an F1 car.