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Exclusive Q&A with BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld 30 Mar 2007

Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton

German in upbeat mood after positive start to season

Nick Heidfeld has had to contend with rain and fire in testing this week, but neither has dampened his enthusiasm for the BMW Sauber F1.07. Such is that enthusiasm, it has even prompted talk of him someday becoming world champion - a possibility that many previously thought had passed Heidfeld by…

Q: After finishing fifth last year, BMW Sauber’s aim for this season was to close in on fourth place in the championship. However, after Melbourne you have emerged as the third force behind Ferrari and McLaren - are you surprised about the team’s performance, or by your competitors’ lack of it?
Nick Heidfeld:
We made a big leap forward. It’s the result of substantial resources and excellent team work. Melbourne has affirmed our test results gained over the winter. Especially after the tests in Bahrain I was convinced of our competitiveness - and Melbourne proved me right. Before you go racing you never can be sure about your progress. Ferrari are way ahead, then comes McLaren, and then us and Renault.

Q: After the Australian race you hinted that you felt an even better result could have been achieved. Did you get caught out on tyre strategy - what compound to use when?
NH:
My strategy to start on soft tyres bore the risk of getting delayed in traffic after my first stop. I was aware of that risk - and that was in the end what actually happened. But even with a different tyre strategy a place on the podium was out of reach that day.

Q: This new regulation to use both tyres in the race adds a totally new dimension to race strategy. Is this something a driver appreciates?
NH:
Ah, the strategic challenge to use both specifications in one race holds quite some appeal…

Q: The gap in qualifying between Fernando Alonso in second and you in third position was marginal, but both of you were half a second off Kimi Raikkonen’s pole time. Where do you see potential for closing the gap to Ferrari?
NH:
The times are long gone when a solution to one problem would let you find that missing half second on the track. Today it is all about concentrating on details and continuous enhancement. In my opinion the biggest potential to find speed lies in aerodynamics and the optimal understanding and use of the tyres.

Q: When asked if BMW Sauber were ready for a win you instantly said ‘no’. What are the main areas in which work still has to be done?
NH:
We are not ready yet. Let’s not forget where we are coming from - a little over a year ago we were holding eighth position in the constructors' championship! This year Ferrari will hold the key to any race win. Only if they are afflicted by malfunction or unexpected problems will we be able to beat them. McLaren to date is the second power, and we also face a shortfall compared to them.

Q: Sepang is known to be a demanding track for aerodynamics and tyres. Your test on Thursday did not go quite to plan - first the rain and then your car catching fire - but how is the team’s work on race set-up for the Malaysian Grand Prix progressing?
NH:
Actually we had an extensive program on our agenda: function tests under extreme temperatures, a check of the cooling system, evaluation of the two tyre specifications, race set-up tests and introduction of some new aero parts. Obviously Robert (Kubica) was more fortunate during the first two days, but we decided to extend the test for one more day, so hopefully on Friday I will be able to work on my race set-up. But overall the car felt good so there is no need to worry.

Q: Neither you nor Robert were happy with the decision to let test driver Sebastian Vettel take over for Friday practice sessions. Now the discussion seems to be in a state of flux - is this due to the team’s strong Melbourne performance and the sudden possibility of becoming the ‘third power’ this year?
NH:
My opinion on that topic is known. So all I can say is let’s wait and see how the situation develops.

Q: After the Melbourne result, would you risk a look into the crystal ball? Where do you see yourself heading this season?
NH:
Should we really be able to establish ourselves as the third power in the course of the season, then this would be a sensational result for our young team. This should then open the way for my personal goal - to score the best position of my career in the drivers' championship!