Exclusive Q&A with BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld 10 Mar 2009
At the start of every season there is a favourite. This year the name on many peoples lips is BMW Sauber. After a breakthrough victory in 2008 and what looks to be one of the most advanced KERS systems on the grid, the German-Swiss team appear destined for success in 09. And with KERS handing a potential advantage to lighter drivers, flyweight Nick Heidfeld may have the edge over team mate Robert Kubica as he sets out to prove whether the F1.09 really is a winner
Q: Nick, we're in Barcelona at the last multi-team test and everybody is gearing up for the start of the season. Where do you see F1.09 in the pecking order?
Nick Heidfeld: Its always difficult - and maybe not so clever - to specify where you are, because its impossible to know where you are! You know what you do yourself, and I think weve done a good job so far. We used the time very well and just had some minor problems with the reliability, which is not nice, especially this year because we have only three more test days and then testing is over for the rest of the season. Fact is that you never know what the other teams are doing and on what fuel load they are running. Sure we try to calculate to get an idea, and we hear some rumours, but you cannot be definitely sure until the first race.
Q: There is the opinion that BMW Sauber are holding back, that actually the car is much better than the already pretty impressive testing times suggest. Obviously you are keeping your cards close to your chest, but is that true?
NH: Well, the time I did was quite good. But of course I cannot tell more. Last year in testing obviously we were not really happy most of the time. And then by race one, we did surprise a lot of people - including ourselves actually! We hadnt guessed that we were able to go so quick. Thats all I can say.
Q: BMW Sauber is at the forefront of KERS technology. Are you happy with the state of development? Have all problems been addressed - safety wise and technically?
NH: Safety wise I can say now that I am happier, but sure, we were not happy with the safety we had over the last couple of months. We had an incident with one mechanic and that was not so funny. But after that there was a lot of thought going into it and since then there were no further issues. Reliability seems quite good and we are testing it quite often, not all the time, but on and off to understand the benefits that we will hopefully have. So far we have not decided whether we will use it in Melbourne or not. It might even be that we use it at some tracks and not others. On fast tracks, with long straights, yes. On low-speed circuits like Monaco, no. But as I said, nothings been decided so far.
Q: You said that pushing the boost button is good fun and that if another driver does it and you dont then you feel a little like youre at a standstill. That sounds like a real advantage for those who use it at the first race and a clear disadvantage for those who dont. Will KERS split the field?
NH: First of all it will be very interesting to see who will run it at the first race and who will not. For overtaking, it could help if you have it and the car in front of you doesnt. Otherwise it will be pretty similar and it will become more of a tactical tool - and that will be interesting as well. As for the difference between the teams, I must say I am very surprised how close together they all are. We have seen massive rule changes this season and I was sure that at the beginning there would be miles between the teams. But in reality the difference is very small.
Q: How much of an advantage is it to be a natural flyweight? Your team mate Kubica had to endure the harsh KERS diet over the winter
NH: I hope that I will have an advantage this year. Its not for fun that all drivers are on a diet. Even I lost more than two and a half kilos. Because I am light it doesnt mean I dont try to lose even more.
Q: What is your approach to the wide front wing? Do you share the view that we will see many front-wing calamities this season? Is the production of front wings running at full speed at BMW Sauber to avoid any shortage?
NH: I think on average we will see a few more problems, especially at the start. But I dont expect anything dramatic. The drivers need to get used to it first and that should not take too long. But yes, there might be occasions where you think that youre not that close and then youre in trouble.
Q: With the adjustment of the front wing from the cockpit and the KERS boost button, a significant part of the race strategy is given back to the drivers. Do you like that idea?
NH: Yes and no. For the KERS on a free lap when you drive on your own you basically know where to push it and where it works, so you dont say ah, now I like to push it here - and on the next lap you push it somewhere else. Experience will teach you pretty quickly where to use it best and try to use it consistently. In a race it might become a tactical tool, which should be fun. The wing changes are more based on feeling I would say, because the tyres and the balance change so much during a race, especially if you follow another car, you will use it quite a bit. Initially I thought that it doesnt help. But lately I discovered when following other cars that it really can make a difference - put the front wing up and go a little closer!
Q: There have been suggestions that the points system should be revised to give a three-point gap between first and second places. What is your stance on that?
NH: Well, this would have helped to create some different world champions over the years. For me personally, I dont really mind. The points system has gone through quite some changes and the thought always was to improve it, but I dont think that was the case. Sure the perception is that the guy who wins the most races should be world champion - and points scoring should not be so important any more. That sure holds a certain logic, but for me as a driver I dont think there is a lot in it. I remember when they changed it the last time, I think it was because Michael Schumacher was winning everything and they didnt want him to disappear so quickly. They always go in one direction.
Q: For 2009 BMW Saubers aim is to be involved in the fight for the championship. So far the team have always met their targets, so are you already mentally prepared for race wins?
NH: Thats a difficult question. When you look at the past weve achieved all the targets that weve set ourselves. But it is also said that the last and final step is the most difficult one. Honestly I cannot answer that. What I can say is that I have a very good feeling for the car, for the balance and what weve done over the winter. Saying yes or no would be pure speculation.