Heikki Kovalainen ended the first day of practice for the United States Grand Prix
with the fifth fastest time, despite track-time on his Lotus debut falling short of the expected three hours.
The Finn, called up as replacement for countryman Kimi Raikkonen
after he decided to have season-ending back surgery, had not sampled the E21 before the morning practice session, and then found his first lap delayed by heavy fog, which descended on the Circuit of the Americas
with little warning. After a long hiatus, Kovalainen was the first driver out on track, but the session was interrupted for a second time after the medical helicopter developed communication problems and needed replacing.
Once allowed to put a few laps together, the Finn – who has only has sporadic FP1 outings with Caterham in 2013 - was quickly up to speed, posting the 13th best time, before greater running after lunch saw him improve to fifth spot as the E21 showed equal promise on both the hard and medium compound tyres.
“It's been a pretty smooth landing,” Kovalainen commented, “We've had no major issues on track today and we just need to keep chipping away to see how good we can get the car for tomorrow and Sunday.
“We lost a bit of track time in the morning, but the car balance was reasonably good straight away. I was able to settle in and work immediately on the set-up and tyre work. All the procedures and routines are quite similar up and down the pit-lane, plus I'm familiar with all the systems from driving with a Renault
engine already this year, so it was a pretty straight-forward day.”
Team-mate Romain Grosjean, expected to pick up the mantle of team leader as Raikkonen heads to Ferrari
in 2014, was only a couple of tenths slower than his new colleague, as both drivers used the long wheelbase version of the E21, but that left him eighth overall after a number of niggling problems further interrupted his day.
“It was an interesting start to the day, waiting to see what the helicopter would do and, after that, the morning was about finding grip in the cold conditions,” he noted, “The afternoon was much warmer and we were able to complete some good work, although we struggled a bit to get the brakes exactly as I want them on low fuel. But, once that's sorted, we should be well placed for tomorrow. Certainly, the car feels good on the long runs so it's a positive start to the weekend.”
Trackside operations director Alan Permane confirmed that the morning delays hadn't helped the team's preparation, but confirmed that, on the whole, it had been a positive start.
“Obviously, our programme was interrupted somewhat in the morning, which deprived Heikki of some vital track time to get used to the E21, but this doesn't seem to have hurt his day and we're very happy that he was immediately comfortable with the car,” he said.
“Romain had a couple of issues with braking on his lower fuel runs, which we're working on improving for tomorrow. It's difficult to draw conclusions from the cooler morning practice but, in the afternoon, we were happy with the pace from both drivers, particularly on the long runs.”