Exclusive Q&A with BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld 04 Apr 2009
Last weekends Melbourne race was a big disappointment for BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld. After the winter tests had suggested he could be a real contender for the championship, a 10th-place finish wasnt what Heidfeld had hoped for. But Quick Nick has been in Formula One racing long enough to know that the first race is never a real gauge for the rest of the season
Q: Nick, Melbourne must have been a bitter pill to swallow for you. Youve always done well at Albert Park but you couldnt even make it through to Q3. What did you make of the Australia weekend?
Nick Heidfeld: It was disappointing indeed. First of all I didnt get qualifying right - obviously that was problem number one. And then I was just unlucky being hit in Turn One. But that can happen, especially in Melbourne over the last couple of years. We have seen that it does happen. I had a very good start, making up two positions, and would have been in a good situation for the race, as I started outside the top 10 and had a lot of fuel on board, whilst already up to seventh place by then. But that all doesnt count! After the first-corner incident my car was heavily damaged. And although I tried everything, my car was much too slow.
Q: What happened to the F1.09s good pace? At the tests you were outshining your team mate Robert Kubica, but now the situation seems to be reversed. How do you explain that?
NH: Well, obviously in the race it was due to the fact that my car was seriously damaged. In qualifying, Robert did a good job but I had the same pace up until three turns from the end, when I basically messed it up. Thats about the only explanation there is.
Q: What are you and your engineers doing to get you back to the front?
NH: Well, at the moment we are looking quite a lot into the KERS issue. Yesterday for example I had one outing with KERS and one without KERS on board, to find the benefits and the downsides. Analyzing that, taking my feelings into account, trying to maximize the potential, and see if with KERS the car is really quicker. And the outcome was that here in Sepang, there should be an advantage. Thats why I decided to run it. But it is not as much of a difference as night and day.
Q: Was having KERS on board a disadvantage at Albert Park, and how will it perform here? Everybody says that with two long straights, the KERS cars will do better...
NH: In fact, coming here I was surprised that the difference in terms of lap times between Melbourne and here is very small. It doesnt really matter that the straights are much longer here. Its true there are some benefits, but for me they seem marginal. What is more important is that the straight to Turn One is very long, so that should give you an advantage at the start. And in qualifying you also can get an advantage as you boost at the start line. These are basically the two benefits. But on top of that, we all know that the balance is a bit worse when you have KERS on the car, and with the grip level being quite low in Melbourne it played more of a role there than it does here. When the grip level is higher it makes KERS more useable.
Q: So you will definitely run with KERS here this weekend?
Q: One of your strengths last year was being able to bounce back
NH: For sure, I hope that I will have this quality again this year - probably not to bounce back, but to have a good starting position to fight for the front.
Q: Are your problems basically technical or are you part of the problem?
NH: Well, after one race you cannot really judge if I have problems or not, as the car in the (Australian) race was so heavily damaged that it was not possible to do anything. And in qualifying there I had a car that was oversteering a lot in the last couple of corners. Fact is that I didnt get it right, but the problems were just the last three corners. Its not nice that it happened but it was the first race, and as I said, we have to see what happens at a couple more before we judge where I stand. The winter tests have made me very confident that I will have a strong season.
Q: The Brawns have taken everyone aback with their performance. As a driver you must want the same diffuser system as they - and Williams and Toyota - are running. Are the engineers at Hinwil already working in that direction?
NH: Yes of course we are looking into it, and working on it, but unfortunately we dont have it here. Most likely we will not have it for the next race either - so its already a couple of races that they have a huge advantage. It is hard to know what makes such a difference without having it on the car.
Q: In previous years, when a car is not performing as expected, the team go testing. That is over now. How difficult is it to push the development and eliminate shortcomings on race weekends?
NH: Well, the development in the factory is as it was in the past - working flat out and using the wind tunnel as much as we are allowed to. The problem is when you want to finalize the findings and be sure that it is an advantage. We have seen last year we did bring a lot of new parts onto the car, which sometimes did not work as we had hoped for. This year we have to be sure that what parts we bring to a race will really help us.