Thursday, September 23, 2010

Exclusive Nick Heidfeld Q&A: I feel honoured to be back

At the recent Italian Grand Prix, Nick Heidfeld was a hot candidate for a 2011 drive because of his recent tyre testing for Pirelli. But just days later, Heidfeld is back racing again, replacing Pedro de la Rosa at BMW Sauber for 2010's remaining five Grands Prix. Even though he doesn’t know the C29 at all, and despite having completed very little mileage this year, the German is sure he can deliver in Singapore and keep his rookie team mate Kamui Kobayashi at bay…

Q: Nick, you hoped your duties for Pirelli would raise your chances of getting back into a cockpit for 2011 - but you’re back already. Why did it work out so quickly?
Nick Heidfeld: Well, with my role for Pirelli, it was always clear that it would raise my chances for a 2011 cockpit and the talks with BMW Sauber obviously did not start just a day before the announcement. There have always been talks and there always was a bit of hope throughout the season - with regards to other teams too. And as nothing came up I took the duty with Mercedes as reserve driver, clearly with the perspective to return to a cockpit at latest in 2011.

Q: So the focus was on 2011. Were you therefore surprised to regain a race seat this year?
NH: Sure, the focus was on 2011. What has happened now is something you can’t plan for. That doesn’t mean that getting a cockpit is not always in the back of your mind. And if a good seat comes along, you grab it with both hands. What is really surprising is the time span. It took less than two weeks to get me back into racing. That really was a jump start. Normally you join a team and undergo all preliminary actions like a simulation of the car, testing and so on. It takes weeks and weeks - and now everything happened in less than 14 days.

Q: Being a reserve driver must be one of the loneliest jobs over a race weekend. How did you cope with that situation?
NH: It was not easy, but it was a decision that I took because I wanted to be at the tracks, show my face, stay in the mind of people and have an eye on every opportunity that arises. It was very interesting to work with Mercedes - with Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher - to see how people who have had a lot of success in Formula One go about things. Hopefully I gained something from that.

Q: Do you feel sympathy for Pedro de la Rosa?
NH: Yes, very much so. He lives nearby in Switzerland and we meet from time to time and I got in contact with him pretty soon after it was decided. He took it very professionally and very well. He is a really nice guy, but he also knows how Formula One works and if I have the chance to get a cockpit I naturally grab it. I definitely would not say, ‘No thanks; it’s Pedro’s’.

Q: Why did you not start the season with the team?
NH: You’ll have to ask Peter (Sauber). We have been in talks and I was interested in joining the team but somehow we didn’t get together. That I am back now makes me feel somewhat honoured because the team knows me very well and if they didn’t know that I am good they wouldn’t have taken me onboard.

Q: Could it have been that Peter Sauber wanted to create a bit of distance between the old and the new?
NH: Without giving away too much I would say that Peter wanted a fresh start. I guess that was on his mind when he decided on his driver line-up.

Q: Could it be that Sauber somehow blamed the drivers for not giving better input on the car's development, which in the end led to BMW's withdrawal?
NH: I don’t think so. A car that is not so competitive is always a result of all the factors involved - not only the drivers - so I would not think that he would blame one driver for not working it out perfectly. He has been in Formula One for too long to not know that you achieve good results together - and you produce mistakes together. As I just said before I think he wanted a fresh start.

Q: What about your new car - the C29? How well do you know it after last season’s development work?
NH: I don’t really know it at all. It’s a new car. I know the structure, yes, and that helps. But with James Key there is a new technical director and he has changed quite a lot. And the tyres are completely different to those of last year, so what I will find on Friday is completely new to me. But I have so many seasons under my belt that I know what is important for a race weekend. What will immediately help is that I can most likely use last year’s seat and that the steering wheel layout is basically the same as last season’s. That should help me to get into the rhythm more quickly.

Q: How did you prepare for this weekend? Aside from the Pirelli drives, you haven’t been in a Formula One car much lately…
NH: It’s true, I haven’t driven the Mercedes car properly at all. I have only done some demos with it - but not on a proper track - and sure there were the Pirelli tests, but here again it was a different car and different tyres. Even so I hope that these test sessions sharpened my senses again and got me the feeling back. When I knew that that I would be racing in Singapore I immediately started to focus on the track layout. I walked the track yesterday to see any differences from last year. But basically there’s nothing too different from what I was used to in the past.

Q: You are teaming up with rookie Kobayashi, who has given the experienced De la Rosa a run for his money…
NH: Well, I don’t know Kamui very well. Just over the last week I have started to get to know him and I find him a very open, friendly and funny guy, with whom you should be able to cooperate very well. He has made a good name for himself in Formula One so I think it will be a good relationship. And competition is part of the business here so I really prefer it to have somebody who is pushing me…

Q: All eyes will be on you this weekend, so how will you cope with that?
NH: I am pretty convinced that I will be able to do a good job this weekend. How good? Let’s wait and see. I don’t know the car yet. This should not sound like an excuse, but we have seen with other drivers that getting into a new car is sometimes quite tricky. Sure the target is to beat Kamui, but that is normal team mate procedure. He would tell you the same about me. The expectations are clearly running quite high - not only in the paddock but also in the team. I like that. Because it shows that people believe in me. I am pretty comfortable with the situation, as in the past I usually performed well under pressure.

Q: After the remaining five races you will surely want more. How far advanced are talks about next year and where will you be?
NH: There are naturally talks with several teams - basically with all the teams that have a reasonable seat available. The top teams have no free cockpits anymore so it’s easy to guess to whom we are talking.

Q: Was it a bit of a risk to come back for these five races? You have the advantage of your Pirelli experience, but if these five races go badly that advantage might disappear. Are you worried about that?
NH: It was not at all on my mind and I don’t see it that way. I still think that having driven the Pirelli tyres is an advantage that has nothing to do with the races now. Sure it would probably have helped more to do more tests with the new tyres, but I wanted to race. I am sure that I will deliver.


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