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Heidfeld & BMW Sauber - Why Nick must be quick 22 Sep 2010

Nick Heidfeld (GER).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 25 March 2010 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Mercedes GP Third Driver 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Qualifying Day, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 15 May 2010 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.09 retired from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 27 September 2009

Forget the beard, sideburns and seventies’ shades. Beneath that facade lies the most successful Formula One driver never to win a Grand Prix. And this weekend he’s back. In an F1 race career spanning more than a decade, Nick Heidfeld has scored 219 points and stood on the second step of the podium no less than eight times. Quite a record.

So what can we expect when ‘Quick Nick’ returns to the BMW Sauber fold in Singapore this weekend? More of the same would be a pretty safe bet. True, the F1.09 does not have the pace to add to his podium tally - and is certainly not likely to power him to that elusive maiden win - but it is more than capable of delivering the German a top-ten finish after 14 races away.

Heidfeld’s new team mate Kamui Kobayashi has proved that, scoring points at four of the last six rounds. It is the young Japanese that Heidfeld needs to emulate and not the departing Pedro de la Rosa, unceremoniously dropped by the Swiss squad after contributing just once to their 2010 championship tally.

Getting back in the groove should not be a problem for Heidfeld, who split with BMW Sauber at the end of 2009 after the German car giant quit the team and the sport. A new technical director aside - James Key, ex-Force India, replaced Sauber stalwart Willy Rampf in April - he is returning to a ‘family’ he knows well, having previously spent a total of seven seasons at Hinwil.

Plus he has had recent track time in a Formula One car. It was something he’d been getting precious little of in his original 2010 role as Mercedes GP reserve, but his recent switch to Pirelli tyre tester saw him racking up serious mileage in a 2009 Toyota. Back behind the wheel after several months away, it was hardly surprising the 33 year-old then jumped at the chance of a race return.

Some would argue he should have bided his time. With a few more Pirelli tests under his belt the value of his accrued knowledge of the Italian company’s 2011 tyre offering might have proved seriously tempting to other teams. Then again, with the frontrunners having already firmed up their pairings for next season, and with BMW Sauber on the rise, finding a better offer may have proved tricky.

There is, of course, no guarantee Heidfeld will be sitting in a BMW Sauber cockpit next year. He has only been confirmed for the rest of 2010, which means he has just five races to prove he’s still got what it takes, assuming there is even a vacancy for next season. And after his experience with De la Rosa, Peter Sauber will be expecting his ‘new’ driver to deliver from the off, in all departments.

There is no reason he shouldn’t. Singapore is a circuit he likes. He finished a strong sixth in 2008’s inaugural Marina Bay race, even though 2009’s was a miserable affair - he qualified eighth, was penalised for an underweight car (after a ballast mix-up by the team), started from the pit lane and then recorded his first DNF in 35 races after being taken out by compatriot Adrian Sutil.

The BMW Sauber’s performance will almost certainly be better than at low-downforce Monza and all being well he can even use his old seat from 2009. If the car’s reliable, he’ll get it to the finish - after all this is the man who achieved a record 41 consecutive race classifications (until Sutil intervened).

The real question is how quickly will he get it there? Kobayashi will be a tough benchmark, given his strong form of late and his knowledge of the car - knowledge that Heidfeld would be well advised to plunder in Friday practice at Marina Bay. Kobayashi also has less pressure on his shoulders - he has already proved his worth this season and, as a result, is confirmed for the next.

To Heidfeld’s advantage, he knows the circuit while his team mate doesn’t. And last year he out-qualified a certain Robert Kubica around it in identical machinery. He also has 167 Grand Prix starts on his side - that’s over 150 more than the man on the other side of the garage. All in all it should make for a fascinating battle of youth versus experience. And Nick Heidfeld’s F1 future could just hinge on the outcome.

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