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Exclusive interview - BMW's Nick Heidfeld 08 Jan 2007

Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 with new beard. Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain. 28 November 2006. World © Bumstead/Sutton

He may have seven Formula One seasons under his belt, but Nick Heidfeld remains something of an enigma. He is one of the grid’s most experienced racers, yet retains arguably the lowest profile of all Germany’s Formula One drivers. Currently preparing for his second season with the fast-improving BMW Sauber team, Heidfeld explains why he still has plenty to prove…

Q: BMW Sauber enjoyed a positive 2006 season, improving from eighth in the 2005 constructors’ championship to fifth. There was a definite boost in the team’s - and your - performance during the second half of the season, prompting team principal Mario Theissen to suggest that Robert Kubica getting the second race seat was a wake-up call for you. Was it?
Nick Heidfeld:
It didn’t make any difference for me. The fact was the car improved fundamentally, so the results improved, and improved beyond expectations. At the beginning of the season I had hoped the team would be able to finish in sixth position of the constructors’ championship. That we were able to outrun Toyota was a brilliant achievement.

Q: Your contract is secure until 2008. Out of your team mates Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel, you are the team’s most experienced driver. Do you think your role will be that of lead driver?
NH:
Positions have to develop. I believe it hardly ever works to assign specific roles beforehand. Naturally I am the driver with the most experience and I hope that the team and the youngsters will benefit from that fact. But Robert and Sebastian have already done mileage by themselves. Robert has raced almost half a season, and the way he learns and contributes, he is already of big help for the team and hence also for me.

Q: It is very rare for two race drivers in the same team to be best of friends and there have been reports that the relationship between you and Kubica is less than harmonious. Is there any truth behind these reports?
NH:
Ah, this is always one of the media’s favorite topics. Not only in my and Robert’s case, but in general. So be it! I had a good relationship with him from the very beginning. Naturally on the track we fight each other, but that doesn’t mean that we do not get along well when we are out of the cockpits. I never had problems with any of my team colleagues, may that have been Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa or Jacques Villeneuve.

Q: The pre-Christmas tests seemed to end positively for BMW Sauber, with the team adapting well to the switch to Bridgestone tyres. How comfortable did you feel?
NH:
That was also my impression. From the very beginning we felt comfortable with the new tyres with the standard set-up and have since tried different set-ups in the course of the tests. We have not finished yet but that will be done with the new car. In general I must say that I found the media interpretation of those tests sort of weird. All the teams were running their 2006 cars and to draw conclusion for ’07 is premature because the longtime Bridgestone clients obviously had certain advantages. Only the new cars will show who is using the tyres to their maximum potential.

Q: The launch of the new car is less than 10 days away. What hopes go with it?
NH:
I have high hopes and anticipation. The roll-out is always a crucial and fascinating moment for a team - after all those months of hard work in the factory. And especially for a driver: You did little mileage in winter, the old car didn’t see any improvements - and then the new package for the next season waits for you in the pits. It’s always a little miracle. And my experience is that you can already tell at the roll-out if the car is a front or back of the grid candidate. In my F1 career I have almost always driven at the launch.

Q: The team’s aim for 2007 must be to finish the season in fourth position and close the gap to the front-runners even further. What is your personal goal for the season ahead?
NH:
I hope the same. Finishing fourth would be the logical next step. But the air does get thinner the higher you climb. If you look at the 2006 results the gap between fifth and fourth position was immense. We had 36 points and Honda had 86. Fifty points are a world away. But as both BMW Sauber and myself want to be world champion at one point, we have to raise the benchmark.

Q: You recently said that at the moment you feel very satisfied with your driving achievements. Is winning a drivers’ title still on your agenda?
NH:
To make it very clear, my goal is and will always be to win the Formula One world championship. Not in 2007, that would be unrealistic, but in the near future.