On Friday, he finally retweeted one of my tweets and replied to it. I was just having a usual conversation with Sergio, a hardcore Heikki fan from Spain; we both were exchanging pictures of our Kovalainen caps. Then he unexpectedly replied to both of us:
I hope you can forgive me for being an ecstatic fangirl for a few moments. Actually I believe that this tweet will keep encouraging me for some time.
I cannot really explain why I became a fan of Heikki Kovalainen but I remember exactly when it happened. I was a Michael Schumacher fan until the German’s first retirement at the end of 2006 and then could not find anyone else to support at first. A year later, I decided to put a Renault flag on my bedroom wall because I kind of liked Alonso. However, when Fernando was fighting with Heikki during the first Grand Prix of 2008, I immediately wanted the Finn to win this fight. That was it. I replaced my Renault flag with a McLaren flag quite soon.
I had not paid much attention to Kovalainen during his debut season even though I remember that he kind of failed to meet the high expectations at first and then came back strongly in the second half of the year. But I know that I was happy about McLaren’s decision to hire him after Fernando Alonso had left the team.
The highlight of the 2008 season was obviously the Hungarian Grand Prix as Felipe Massa retired with a smoking engine and it took me a few seconds to realise, who was leading the race… I was jumping up and down like a kid.
The first time I saw Kovalainen driving was at Nurburgring on July 11, 2009. After watching every Formula 1 race on TV for more than ten years, I was finally able to go to a Grand Prix myself. It was a really cold and misty weekend but I could not be happier – I was at a race and could even follow my favourite driver’s progress in the race via a special device called Kangaroo TV. The spectators in the stands stood up and I put my fist in the air as Heikki made a great start and jumped to third. He finished the race eighth but it was a solid result given the quality of that McLaren. I had taken several pictures of my hero and was a happy bunny on that Sunday night.
In 2009, I also participated in a predictions championship organized by Kovalainen’s unofficial website – I won the competition and got a signed A4 picture of Heikki.
For sure, 2009 was not an easy year for Heikki. The partnership with McLaren just did not work and Hamilton’s status at the team did not make things easier. Incidentally, I was also going through tough times in my life at the end of that year so we both needed a fresh start.
When Kovalainen joined the new Lotus team, I was thinking “Well, at least this should be fun.” And so it was. While this partnership brought no points, Kovalainen certainly became more relaxed during those years and regained his self-confidence. My loyalty to Heikki was stronger than ever and I was still buying Kovalainen fan articles and wearing a Lotus / Caterham cap during my visits to Spa in 2011 and 2012.
My favourite moment from Kovalainen’s years at Lotus/Caterham was the qualifying of the 2012 Bahrain GP. I went crazy when he beat Michael Schumacher’s time by 0.013s and made it to Q2. The saddest moment was when he spun right in front of my eyes during the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix – I was literally screaming and grabbing my head. All of this just proves that a driver does not have to fight for victories or even points to make fans crazy for him.
The Internet has helped me get to know other Kovalainen fans – Jari from Finland, Kiril from Belarus, Sergio from Spain, Boštjan from Slovenia, Benjamin from France and several other guys and girls from other parts of the world. I surely would have missed a lot if I had not met them.
Why do I like him so much? It is really hard to explain but maybe it is a combination of his no-bullshit attitude, his kindness, his sense of humour, his sportsmanship and the fact that he does not judge other people, he just accepts them.
I like several other drivers, too. I wanted Lewis Hamilton to win the championship last year, have a poster of his car on my wall now and a Mercedes cap and a T-shirt in my drawer. But it is different. Heikki Kovalainen will always have a special place in my heart.
I really hope to see him driving in the WEC, WTCC, DTM or elsewhere. I know that he has always wanted to be an F1 driver but it could be a start of something great… for both of us.