Heikki Kovalainen will race for Renault next year, with Ricardo Zonta and
Nelson Piquet Jr joining the team as test drivers. Kovalainen will step up to
become Giancarlo Fisichella’s team mate when Fernando Alonso leaves for McLaren
at the end of the season.
Kovalainen, runner-up in last year’s GP2 series, joined Renault as an
official tester in 2004 and has since completed over 28,000km for the team,
playing a key role in the development of last year’s championship-winning R25
car, and this year’s R26.
“I am thrilled to get the opportunity to race with a world champion team
like Renault,” said the Finn. “I have been a member of the Renault Driver
Development programme since 2002, when I had the distant ambition of one day
becoming an F1 driver. It is a fantastic feeling to have finally achieved
“My two seasons testing for the team, as well as my time in GP2, have
allowed me to build my technical knowledge and to understand what it takes to
win in Formula One. I have also had the opportunity to show the team what I can
do, and it is a great motivation to know that they believe in me. It will be a
fantastic feeling to line up on the grid in Melbourne, but that is still a long
way off. At the moment, I am totally focused on helping Renault win the 2006
Zonta will join Renaul t after four seasons at Toyota. The 30-year old
Brazilian possesses eight seasons of Formula One experience, both as a race and
test driver. Renault believe his proven track record, combined with extensive
technical knowledge, will be major assets in the development of their 2007
challenger. His work with Toyota tyre suppliers Bridgestone should be especially
useful when all the teams switch to the Japanese company’s rubber next year.
Meanwhile, Piquet, 21, has marked himself out as man of the future during
this year’s GP2 series. Son of three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, Nelsinho
has shown both speed and guile, taking four race wins and five pole positions so
far to put him second in the championship, with two races remaining.
Team boss Flavio Briatore, who has just renewed his contract with the team
for another two years, commented: “Everybody at Renault is very optimistic about
our driver line-up for 2007 and beyond. We have taken the conscious decision to
build for the future, without compromising the stability of the team in the
short term. Giancarlo is a proven force in Formula One and Heikki is already
fully integrated into the team. After seeing performances in testing this
season, we have very high hopes for him.
“It is also a pleasure to welcome Ricardo and Nelsinho, who each bring
different qualities to the team: Ricardo will have a key role to play in
preparing for 2007, while Nelsinho has shown this year that he deserves his
place in Formula One. 2007 is the start of something new for Renault, and we
believe it will be an exciting season.”