ESPNF1 sat down with Heikki Kovalainen in the Barcelona paddock to find out his hopes for Caterham, if Kimi Raikkonen's return affects him and his ambitions for the future
You enjoyed such impressive form in 2011, what's changed that's enabled you to perform at that level? You've previously said that you didn't feel like you were fulfilling your early potential...
It's not just one thing; I think I've changed a lot of things. It's a combination of everything that is working very well now. I think to sum it all up it's that now I get everything out of the team and out of the car pretty regularly. Even if I have a bad day it doesn't really faze me at all, the confidence is high now - especially the confidence in the car - it's now 110% all the time. I don't have any leaps and other changes that I've made ... now I know what is expected and now I know what I need to do to deliver and it's working very well.
The team has made progress every year so far; what do you think - aside from your performance in the car - that you've contributed to push it forward?
Well I think the experience that I have from the two big teams that I've been at in the past. Obviously I know how they operated and I've had a little chat with the management of our team to say how I think things need to be run and where I think we need to focus more. But we have professional people doing that such as someone like Mike [Gascoyne] who has been around and he knows how things need to be run, so I haven't needed to stir that at all really. So I think just working with the engineers and especially throughout the season helping develop the car; I think that's the biggest contribution I've been able to make through these years.
Does it motivate you looking back down the pit lane and seeing the other 'new' teams you've left behind and knowing that two years ago you were in the exact same position alongside them?
Yeah it's obvious, it's great to see that we've made progress and of course that's what everybody expected us to do. Now our next task is to get more that way (points up the paddock) to see what those guys are doing and what they are doing better and where they are gaining performance and deal with that. That's the next step for us but it's still a big task.
Obviously scoring points has got to be the team's next target, do you think you'd be disappointed if you ended the season having not scored a point?
I haven't said exactly like 'I want to score a point' and that sort of thing. I think the most important thing is that we need to close the gap to the midfield. We need to be in the pack rather than a step behind. If we can do that I think it's great. I think we should have all the ingredients to do that but whether our car is quick enough or not I don't think we know yet, we won't know until Melbourne.
You said you can get 110% out of the team and the car; do you believe that if you were in a front-running car this year you could win the world championship?
And does that remain your ultimate goal?
And do you realistically think this team can get there? Is it possible to make it to the front of the grid?
It's possible, yeah, it's possible. But at the moment I haven't set any long term goals for myself and actually I don't have a contract until after this year with anyone, I want to keep my options open. If I see that this team is progressing like I think it should do I think I'm happy to stay here. There are many things that I've been able to achieve in this team that I didn't achieve in the previous teams and that are working very well. But of course, I'm a hungry driver, I'm really hungry for success again and I'm really keen to see how good I could be. I think I can do a great job now in a good car, but there's no point in talking about it too much. Although I feel I can get in to that kind of situation and deliver, it's a different thing to do that than to talk about it. So I don't focus at the moment on it very much, I just focus on performing where I am now, 110%, and let other people worry about the other things. Probably after the start of the season at some point we'll sit down - my management - with the people around me (the team) and we'll sort of have a look; 'Where are we? What do we think?' And then we go from there.
This will be your sixth season in Formula One and starts permitting you'll pass 100 races, is time on your side? There's guys of 40+ in the paddock, do you see yourself here that long?
It's very hard to say. I mean, if I feel that I'm competitive enough I don't see a reason why I would do something else. But the day that I feel that I'm not good enough here anymore, one of the areas is not 100% anymore then I think it's better to give up and do something else. I'm quite sure that I'll be able to feel that straight away, I have enough experience to feel when I'm performing and when I'm not performing. One day if I've done all the preparation and I'm underperforming then it's time to move on and when that's going to happen I think is impossible to say. If I'm still here in 10 years then fantastic; if not, so be it.
There's been a lot of talk and interest about Kimi's return, as a fellow Finn do you feel like you haven't got the recognition you deserve last year going in to this year because as a former world champion he's getting the attention?
No I don't feel like that. It's normal, when you're not winning grands prix or when you're not on pole position it's normal. People who are delivering the results they deserve and they get the glory and that's fine. It doesn't faze me at all and it doesn't bother me, Kimi's a world champion so of course people are interested and excited about him especially now coming back. My job is just to put myself in a position where I can compete against those guys and beat those guys and then the headlines will be different so it's as simple as that.
Is that a motivation for you then? To see that reaction and think 'I can achieve that, I can get to that level'?
No not really, I mean I don't reference myself like that against the other guys, I purely focus on what I do and try to make sure that I do it at 110% level and not anything below that. When everything else is in place the results will be good - that's how I think. I have no problem with motivation, whatever the situation is if I can't beat some of the other guys it doesn't bother me, I still motivate myself to make the best out of the car. Even I'm not fighting with anyone I still try to push and get everything out of the car every lap, and I think that's the mentality you have to have. Hopefully one day you'll be in a situation where you're fighting with the guys at the top and nothing changes, you're still delivering your maximum potential.
If you were sat here in 12 months time, where do you want to have progressed to? Will you be in a car that can challenge for race wins, that is consistently in the points?
Ideally I'd see myself in a position where I can fight for wins and championships. Of course it's as simple as that, but whether that's realistic and possible or not I don't know. It remains to be seen but ultimately I am hungry for success and I think I am much stronger now in every area. I know what I need to do and I think I can deliver here in the paddock now regardless of the situation, regardless of the environment, regardless of the people around me.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1