Thanks to the lovely folk at Caterham we had the chance to interview Heikki Kovalainen after the first day’s testing in Barcelona.  We wanted to know more about one of the most popular and charming chaps on the grid, including what it’s like being an F1 driver at a test, what he likes for breakfast, whether he has any plans to grow a beard and far more besides…

Heikki Interview
Cool, calm and upbeat, it's Heikki!

Tricky day today, how are you feeling?

We couldn’t get everything done today, with the rear suspension failure on the left side which took a while to fix and we’ve just got a temporary fix for today with new parts being flown in over night, ready for Vitaly to go out tomorrow.

After today’s issues are you and the team on the backfoot?

No, not really – we have the next three days and we have plenty of tyres and time to get the laps in to complete our programmes.  It’s not ideal having a bad start, but it’s not by any means a big deal.

From a drivers point of view, do you enjoy testing?

Yes, absolutely. Driving is the best part of the job – and these days its less and less so it’s great to get out on track whenever we can.

So are there any downsides to being at testing as a driver?

Not driving – hanging around and not being able to go out while the other driver is out in the car for the day.

Speaking of the other driver, how are you getting on with your new team mate?

I’ve seen him briefly and he seems fine. I know him from the past, so we’ll work well together to take the team forward just as we did with Jarno.

Drivers these days spend a lot of time in the simulator, how does it compare with actual track testing?

In the simulator you get basic guidelines – gear ratios and downforce levels, whereas at the track you get a better measure of the tyres and of grip levels which are not easily modelled in the simulator.

You seem very upbeat – which is great – but when will we see Heikki on the podium?

In 2012?  Haha! [gasps] I don’t think that would be a realistic goal for me this year, but scoring points and being in the midfield is definitely achievable. If there are some unusual situations then it’s possible, but unlikely.

There’s a lot of talk about the new tyre compounds for 2012, what are your thoughts?

There’s less difference between the compounds so we’ll see different tactics this year – rather than having one good and one bad tyre.  For us, the rears are stronger than the fronts.

Enough about testing, let’s learn more about Heikki…

Heikki: always clean shaven

There’s some impressive facial hair amongst the drivers, have you ever considered growing a beard?

[Laughs] No not really.  Sometimes I grow one but it takes so long to grow and I have no time to trim.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Porridge – I have a special porridge from Finland, which is for kids and I have it every day.

Favourite cheese?

None really, I hate cheese, except maybe parmesan on pasta.

Tea or coffee?

Tea.  No coffee at all and only a bit of tea.

What’s your ideal Sunday afternoon, when you’re not driving an F1 car?

Be at home.  Have a workout in the morning, lunch and then 18 holes of golf before spending time with my girlfriend and my friends.

If you could race in any previous season which would it be?

I don’t really have any preference and I’m not a fan of old cars – if someone asks me which car would I like to drive, I’d say the 2011 Red Bull.

So you don’t have a preferred car from history – do you have a driving hero?

Not really.  I used to follow rally and liked Markku Alén – he was always entertaining, driving on the limit and crashing a lot.  I followed F1 properly when Hakkinen joined McLaren.

And that concludes our chat with Heikki – we hope you enjoyed it! Where else could you learn about an F1 driver’s shaving habits and cheese preferences?!

Many thanks to Tom Webb (@TWCaterhamF1 on Twitter) for organising the interview and, if you’re not already, you should follow Heikki on Twitter – he really is most entertaining.