Heikki Kovalainen in his happiest Formula One place
It may have been one of the longest Formula One seasons in history, but Heikki Kovalainen would happily get back in the car tomorrow.
A 19-race calendar and one of the sport's latest finishes left many in motorsport's marquee category aching for a break – but 2011 was a satisfying one for the Finn, de facto lead driver at Hingham's Team Lotus who will race as Caterham from next year.
The 2010 new boys secured the modest goal of 10th place in the constructors' championship and its extra millions in funding for a second season – if still missing out on their first points.
But despite campaigns with title-winning teams McLaren and Renault, Kovalainen believes last season topped the lot.
'For me it felt one of the shortest seasons of my career; I feel I'm fresh to go again,' said the 30-year-old. 'It wasn't tiring at all for me, I really enjoyed it – more than any of the years before and I just look forward to driving the car again.
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'I don't feel I need a break. I had a very balanced year, I was able to keep the energy levels where they needed to be and recover after each race. But for the team members, mechanics and everyone, they need a break more than I do.'
Kovalainen outdid Hingham team-mate Jarno Trulli more often than not last season, although the Italian F1 veteran's two 13th-place finishes saw him win the pair's drivers' championship battle. But it would have taken more than that to spoil Kovalainen's year at Team Lotus.
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'This year for me was getting back to real good form for the first time since my junior category years,' said the one-time grand prix winner.
'I felt I performed this year at the level I was performing at Formula Three and GP2. The Renault and McLaren years didn't work out very well and I lost a little bit of confidence and wasn't able to perform, so it was obvious I had some things that needed to change.
'Now I have found a good way, good and balanced form, and every time I get into the car I know I can get the best out of it and I can drive it to the limit. That's what it needs to be and what the team expects of you. It's like a golfer. Sometimes you lose your swing and I had lost mine – but I've found it again.
'After the second McLaren year, even if they had offered me an extension there was no point to continue there because it wasn't working – for various reasons and there's no need to go too deep into those, but the bottom line was I lost confidence, lost the freedom. Driving shouldn't be that difficult.
'To find that freedom again I had to go back to the starting point. That is why I joined Team Lotus and not the offers I had from some of the established teams. I changed my fitness programmes and many things in my life, and the idea was to find that form and promise I felt I had in the junior categories, because I remember those years I felt very comfortable in the car and was always able to perform at the maximum.
'Now I understand how to find the way to stay at this level for a good time, and I think I am able to contribute more to the team. The form is good and with the experience I have collected, I can offer a strong package to the team.'
The good news for Caterham's Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne and team principal Tony Fernandes is that Kovalainen won't be going anywhere in the winter – despite his performances creating reported interest from some of the more established teams.
'I will be at Caterham – 100pc, I'm not going anywhere,' he assured. 'I have a firm contract and this is where I will race next year – after that we will see. I'm very happy to work with this team, they have enabled me to get my swing back and I'm certain I'd be able to function in all kinds of teams now to be honest.
'I know what the teams require from a driver and the paddock is a happy place for me again. It used to be a stressful place and confusing, but I think the results and relative pace compared to the people around us this year show that I was able to deliver.
'Now it's a matter of chipping away and trying to do better.'