As expected, Renault has confirmed that Heikki Kovalainen will be the team's official test and third driver for the 2006 season. Despite rumours that the Finn was a likely contender for the second race seat at BMW Sauber, Renault has invested heavily in Kovalainen's career and there was little doubt that he would take the test role.
"I am delighted to have been offered this opportunity by Renault," said Kovalainen, who tested on a regular basis for the French squad during the 2005 season, while racing in the GP2 series. "I have already done some testing for the team, but I still have a lot to learn."
"This role will allow me to understand more about the team and how Formula 1 works while developing my driving and technical skills at this level. It is a privilege to be invited to join a championship-winning team, and I am determined to help Renault retain its world titles."
Kovalainen has been a member of Renault's Driver Development Programme since 2002. He was World Series by Nissan champion in 2004, and also tested occasionally for Renault's F1 squad, and this season he was runner up in the GP2. This coming weekend Kovalainen will compete in the Race of Champions, in which he was victorious last year.
"We are delighted to welcome Heikki to the team as our third driver for 2006," said RenaultF1's managing director Flavio Briatore. "He has demonstrated that he is a talented, aggressive driver in the GP2 Series, and he has impressed our engineers during his tests with the team."
"The test driver's role will be crucial during 2006 as we develop our V8 engine through the season to defend the world championship. I am confident Heikki will make a valuable contribution to our success."
Kovlainen takes over the role from Franck Montagny. The Frenchman said last month that he and Renault had parted company but he was back behind the wheel at Barcelona this week. His duties will continue until the end of this year.
"Franck Montagny will continue testing for us until the end of 2005, and I want to pay tribute to his dedication and contribution during his time as test driver," said Briatore. "His work with the test team played an important part in our championship victory, and we wish him well for the future."