Whilst insisting that 'it's still very early days' in terms of contract talks regarding next season, Tony Fernandes has conceded that it is 'very likely' that Heikki Kovalainen will remain on-board at Team Lotus into a third consecutive campaign in F1 2012.

Since being released by McLaren-Mercedes at the end of 2009 after failing to provide a consistent challenge to team-mate Lewis Hamilton, Kovalainen has impressed alongside fellow former grand prix-winner Jarno Trulli at Lotus, out-qualifying the renowned single-lap specialist 16-12 to-date - and eight-one this season - and making it through to Q2 on four occasions, comfortably the most of any of the 'new team' contenders.

What's more, he has out-raced the Italian veteran more often than not, and achieved the Anglo/Malaysian outfit's best result thus far with twelfth place in last year's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

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With an unfailingly positive outlook to-boot, the Finn has seamlessly assumed the role of de facto team leader at Lotus - and with Trulli tipped to hang up his F1 helmet come season's end, it has been argued that the 29-year-old is now all-but invaluable to the team as it strives to climb its way up the grand prix grid. Fernandes has reflected that a new deal for the popular and well-respected Finn is in all probability little more than a formality.

"It is very likely," the Malaysian entrepreneur told Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, when asked about Kovalainen's chances of retaining his seat. "Heikki is a consistent performer and always gets 100 per cent from the car. He gives a lot of energy to the team. Heikki has become a good friend, so if he is satisfied with us, I see no reason to change."