I have a certain respect for Nick Heidfeld. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know why, but never-the-less, that small amount of respect is there. He is no faster than any other driver, he is no more intelligent nor does he possess any more charisma or flamboyance than his fellow racers. But each race he turns up, generally keeps his head down and quietly goes about the business of thrashing a Formula One car around a circuit. In many respects, his attitude towards his work is much like my own, and maybe it is because of that I find a small smile creep across my face when the German driver does well.
Nick entered the world of Formula One in 2000 with the Prost team. Partnered with Jean Alesi, reliability issues plagued both drivers all year and Heidfeld looked elsewhere for a drive in 2001. He found his way in to a Sauber with a three-year contract with the Swiss team, but after the retirement of double World Champion Mika Hakkinen, Nick thought he would be able to move in at Woking and take over the Finns position at McLaren. It wasn’t to be though, and Ron Dennis signed Heidfeld’s 2001 team mate instead, Kimi Raikkonen. Feeling upstaged by the young charger, Nick continued to battle on with the midfield team. He did manage a podium in Brazil and few points that saw him finish in eighth place in the 2001 title standings. However, the struggle at Sauber grew and the performance of the car slipped over the time Heidfeld was driving. By 2003, Nick was placed 14th in the standings with only half as many points he had garnered in 2001.
A change was needed, and reaching the end of his tenure at Sauber, Nick once again looked elsewhere for a drive. However, with his beaten reputation, few teams considered him. Jordan bit though, and Heidfeld signed a one year deal with the British team. In all honesty, Nick would have probably been better off taking a year out of F1. The EJ13 was a terrible car, and Nick could only muster 3 points from 18 races. Placed 18th in the title race, Heidfeld must have feared for his future, but a lifeline was handed in the form of a drive for Williams. Partnered with Mark Webber, Nick was rewarded for his efforts in the failing Jordan with a chance to reignite his career in one of Formula One’s most respected teams. Powered with the mighty BMW engine, things were finally beginning to look good for Nick.
In the first seven rounds of the 2005 championship, Heidfeld managed three podiums, compared to Webber’s one, Nick was looking like a hungry rookie all over again. At his home Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Heidfeld took pole much to the surprise and elation of his fans, and he bagged a second place at Monaco, his best finish to date.
However, despite being in one F1’s top teams, the FW25 wasn’t as good as it should have been, and the results everyone expected didn’t materialise. Furthermore, it became apparent that the relationship between Williams and BMW was souring. And then an accident in testing forced Heidfeld to sit out two races. The bad luck continued when Nick was out training in preparation for his return. While out cycling he was hit by a car and Nick was forced to miss the final races of the year. Once again, bad luck struck the German. But once again, a life line was given to Nick, and to date, it is the last one.
BMW split with Williams at the end of 2005. With no obvious answer to their engine crisis, Nick left the team and joined BMW in their own venture. It would see a return to Sauber for Heidfeld as BMW had bought the outfit, and Nick returned to Hinwil to drive for the team.
A podium in Hungary, the beating of 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, 23 points and a thoroughly impressive season later, Nick is looking good for 2007.
With young Polish driver Robert Kubica keeping the pressure on Heidfeld, 2007 is starting to like a great year for the German marque. The team did exceptionally well in 2006, considering it was their first year as the new team. Nick drove some excellent races and generally kept it all together, not blinking when Villeneuve left in a huff, and not looking too concerned when new boy Kubica gained points on his first outing (although later disqualified for a technical infringement on the teams behalf).
Nick looks like a mature driver who would rather keep his head down and race rather than mouth off to whoever will listen. In fact, he is in stark contrast to his previous team mate Villeneuve, who would regularly voice his opinion to the media, be it good or bad.
I often hear that F1 needs these flamboyant drivers to keep it interesting, but I disagree. I’ve never had any fondness for Eddie Irvine, a driver who lives the playboy lifestyle, criticises fellow racers in his tabloid column and didn’t necessarily have the pace to win when it mattered. The same applies to Villeneuve loosely, and while there is a place in Formula One for these personalities, I fear that too many will cause the sport to resemble a zoo more than a well-oiled racing operation. Equally so, too many quiet-types will lead to thrill-seeking viewers turning over and watching NASCAR or the Red Bull Soap Box race.
But to those who choose to whine about drivers being dull and boring, while you may have a point, I expect Heidfeld to do rather well this year. The BMW is looking like an improvement over last year, and they have kept pace with developments and the other teams. They won’t be shooting for the title, but BMWs plan of aiming for 2008 looks to be on target, and all things going well, Heidfeld should be good for some race wins in a couple of years.
Well, that is what I think of Heidfeld and the general perception of quiet drivers. But what do you think? Is Heidfeld a potential race winner, or should he just sell insurance for a living? Do you prefer the loud-mouthed drivers like Villeneuve and Montoya, or do you watch F1 just for racing? Have your say in the comments below…