Reports in Finland say Lotus set to call up Heikki Kovalainen for United States & Brazil
Hulkenberg's manager says driver turned down approach
Last Updated: 13/11/13 5:32pm
According to Finland's F1 broadcaster MTV3, the experienced Kovalainen, who last raced in the sport with Caterham at the end of 2012 but has since driven for the team on six occasions in Friday practice sessions, will take over Raikkonen's E21 this weekend in Austin and again at next week's season-ending race in Brazil.
Lotus confirmed on Sunday that Raikkonen, who is departing the team for Ferrari over the winter, would sit out the final two weeks of the season in order to have surgery on a long-standing back injury after the issue flared up at the Singapore GP in September.
With Lotus in a battle with Mercedes and Ferrari for the lucrative second place in the Constructors' Championship, the news that their star driver would not reappear prompted speculation as to where the Enstone team would turn to replace him.
The team's reserve driver Davide Valsecchi, 2014 target and current Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg and Kovalainen have all been mooted but the delay in making an official announcement, with no news still arriving into late Wednesday afternoon UK time, has appeared to suggest that the team handing the stand-in role to Valsecchi was unlikely given the Italian is already on their books.
Although he has twice driven Lotus's 2013 car during testing this season and won last year's GP2 Series, Valsecchi's F1 race weekend experience is limited to one P1 session two years ago.
A move for Hulkenberg, meanwhile, was considered particularly intriguing given the German, pending the completion of a key investment deal with the Quantum consortium, is thought to be Lotus's preferred target to replace Raikkonen full-time from 2014.
However, Hulkenberg's manager said on Wednesday that although they did receive an approach from Lotus his client had decided to see out the season with his current team.
"We had an offer from Lotus and have discussed it. But we decided that Nico will drive the last two races with Sauber," Werner Heinz told Germany's Bild newspaper.
Should Kovalainen duly be confirmed before the start of the grand prix weekend in Austin on Friday then it would represent a return to the team where the now 32-year-old began his F1 career when the Enstone outfit were known as Renault.
After three years as a test driver, Kovalainen replaced the McLaren-bound Fernando Alonso in a race seat for 2007 before succeeding the Spaniard again 12 months later when his year at Woking ended in acrimony.
The 2008 Hungarian GP victor crucially also has experience of driving at both Austin and Interlagos.
Lotus remained tight-lipped about the reports when contacted on Wednesday, reiterating that news would come in due course. A Thursday announcement therefore now appears more likely.
You can watch the U.S. GP live on Sky Sports F1 - coverage begins with Practice One on Friday at 2.45pm