F1: Heikki Kovalainen now candidate for 2014 Lotus seat, as Quantum runs out of time

From GMM

Heikki Kovalainen has emerged as a surprise and late contender to drive for Lotus in 2014. Meanwhile, ‘Quantum’, the investment group looking to buy 35 per cent of the Enstone team, has denied once again that the deal is collapsing.

The Finn, Caterham’s ‘Friday’ driver this season, was drafted into Lotus’ race lineup for Austin when countryman Kimi Raikkonen headed for early back surgery.

It was believed the highly rated Nico Hulkenberg, or the well-funded Pastor Maldonado, were the only candidates to replace the Ferrari-bound Raikkonen full-time next year.

But Kovalainen has performed strongly from the first practice lap in Austin, qualifying eighth compared to teammate Romain Grosjean’s third on Saturday.

Team boss Eric Boullier admitted the 32-year-old might have leapt into contention to race full-time for Lotus in 2014.

“It is true that he was not originally on the list,” the Frenchman told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3. “But if he’s doing well now, he can change our minds.”

F1, Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus F1 Team, Austin

Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus E21 (Photo: WRi2)

The vacancy for Austin and Brazil was created when Raikkonen headed for back surgery ahead of schedule.

But it has been rumoured his relationship with Lotus, broken over a financial dispute, was the real reason.

“Money has little to do with it,” team owner Gerard Lopez insists. “We clarified that in Abu Dhabi — he will get his money.

“Maybe his new employer advised him that it would be better to seek treatment as soon as possible,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

Indeed, Lopez suspects Lotus’ constructors’ championship rival Ferrari might also have had something to do with Hulkenberg’s sudden unavailability for the seat in Austin and Brazil.

“As I understand it, he was paid (by Sauber) all of a sudden, so he was no longer available to us,” said the Luxembourger.

There is no doubt, however, that Lopez is running out of patience with Quantum.

“Either they fulfil their contractual obligations, or we must draw our conclusions,” he also told Auto Motor und Sport.

The Quantum group is led by Mansour Ijaz, who after playing down speculation in Abu Dhabi recently, has now travelled to Austin with the same message.

“There is no question that the deal is going to work out,” he insisted on Saturday.

Ijaz said the hefty flow of cash has been held up by red tape, and promised to apologize for the holdup by paying bonuses out of his own pocket.

Lotus, however, cannot afford to simply go on hoping. It is rumoured Pastor Maldonado, with his millions in PDVSA backing in tow, is now definitely headed to Enstone to guarantee the team’s 2014 budget.

Lopez only admitted, that Lotus needs to secure its future financially.

“I will need a sponsor,” he said. “Whether the money comes with a driver or not, I don’t care — I would also take Fernando Alonso with his sponsor.”

About AUTO123.COM - RSS