9 – Heikki Kovalainen
It might seem strange to rate a driver who scored no points and failed to make the top ten on the starting grid at number nine in our top ten countdown of the stars of F1 2010, but that only serves to pay testament to the superb job that Heikki Kovalainen has done this year for newcomer Lotus Racing.
Having competed for a world championship-winning outfit for the previous two campaigns at McLaren-Mercedes, it must have been quite a comedown for Kovalainen to join a team that had never so much as turned an F1 wheel prior to winter testing, but from season's start-to-finish, his attitude was exemplary.
It cannot have been easy to go almost overnight from doing battle for pole position and podiums to knowing that even on an exceptionally good day, the chances of making it beyond the initial Q1 phase of qualifying were slim in the extreme – but Heikki quietly got on with the job without complaining, knuckled down and made the best of his opportunity on every occasion.
In the unpredictably changeable conditions of Sepang, the Finn secured 15th on the grid – and at Spa-Francorchamps just under five months later, an outstanding 13th. On eight occasions, he out-qualified his single-lap maestro team-mate Jarno Trulli, and he lined up on 'pole position' amongst the new team entrants for no fewer than six grands prix.
It was Kovalainen's race pace, however, that truly impressed, for he invariably succeeded in getting the better of Trulli on Sunday afternoons, and his twelfth place at Suzuka and 13th in Melbourne were instrumental in the final reckoning in securing Lotus the coveted tenth spot in the constructors' rankings.
Much-appreciated by his team for his affable nature and hard-working determination, the 29-year-old stayed loyal to the Anglo/Malaysian operation in the face of overtures from his former employer Renault, and with the future looking considerably brighter for Tony Fernandes' boys in 2011, he could just be set to reap the rewards of what he has sown. His reputation might have been left battered and bruised following a demoralising couple of seasons alongside Lewis Hamilton, but it can now be considered rebuilt. The rehabilitation of Heikki Kovalainen is complete.
Statistics – Heikki Kovalainen:
Crash.net's Top 10 F1 drivers of 2010:
9. Heikki Kovalainen
10. Nico Hülkenberg
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