Heikki Kovalainen was immediately on the pace in opening practice for the U.S. GP
Lotus super-sub faster than Romain Grosjean on day one in Austin
By Mike Wise at the Circuit of The Americas. Last Updated: 18/11/13 4:36pm
It was a case of 'mission accomplished' for Heikki Kovalainen on day one of his stint as Lotus's super-sub, with the Finn setting the fifth fastest time in opening practice for the United States Grand Prix.
As Red Bull and Mercedes re-established a familiar pattern at the top of the timesheets, it was left to Kovalainen to provide the main talking point of Friday's second session. Despite having never driven the team's E21 before, he managed to out-pace Romain Grosjean by almost two-tenths of a second.
The impressive performance came in spite of an ill-fitting seat and a fair degree of unfamiliarity with his new surroundings. "I was pressing the wrong buttons today quite a few times," Kovalainen admitted.
The seat, which Kovalainen has inherited from Kimi Raikkonen, has now been modified and after exploring his car's capabilities, the 32-year-old is in a relaxed frame of mind heading into the weekend.
"It doesn't matter too much to me. I didn't know what to expect but when I accepted the job, I thought that I could do the job; it was just a matter of how quickly I got up to speed," Kovalainen said.
"This was the only question mark and it was good to see that things worked out a bit better than I was perhaps anticipating.
"I didn't really have any other objectives than trying to lean on it as soon as possible - trying to be on the edge as soon as possible and we achieved that reasonably well today."
A positive start, in other words, but the biggest obstacles are yet to come. Having only taken part in sporadic P1 sessions for Caterham this season, Kovalainen admitted that his lack of qualifying practice could prove a pitfall, as it has done so often for Raikkonen.
Yet his countryman, who successfully underwent back surgery on Friday, also had the knack of coming through the field in the races - a habit Kovalainen would hope to emulate.
"There is no guarantee I'll get it right, but it doesn't mean it goes wrong either. There is the possibility that everything goes well and we just need to keep the focus now," he said.
"I think we can improve, work a bit on the set-up and also chip away a little bit everywhere.
"We'll try to get it right in qualifying but we've seen many times this year Kimi having average qualifyings but then in the race on Sunday was really good."
If Kovalainen's appraisal of his performance sounds modest then the same could not be said of that delivered by Lotus's Technical Director Nick Chester.
"We feel he's done a brilliant job today," Chester enthused. "Particularly with all the procedures and getting used to driving a new car, we felt it might take a little bit of time. But actually straight away in P1 he was already looking after the car very well.
"In P2 he was fifth quickest and [had] good long runs, I think he's done a great job today."
Even Grosjean was happy to sing his temporary team-mate's praises. "He speaks much more [than Raikkonen], I can understand!" the Frenchman quipped. "No, he's a good driver and I think it's really nice to see him up to speed so quickly."
Kovalainen has been drafted in to boost Lotus's aspirations in the Constructors' Championship but with no hint of a future at the team beyond Interlagos, he added that the pressure was off.
"I'm very relaxed this weekend and not stressed about things too much," said Kovalainen, who hinted on Thursday that he is in talks to step back into a race seat at Caterham next season.
"I'm not thinking about the future at all; I'm thinking about the next day or the next session. With Lotus, we haven't talked about the future at all.
"Who knows? You never know what happens in this paddock. I don't have any targets and I'm not trying to achieve some specific result to put myself in some shopping window.
"I probably stress a little bit less about it than I did a few years ago."