Exclusive Nick Heidfeld Q&A - I am on the market 22 Aug 2009
Nobody at BMW Sauber has remained unaffected by the BMW boards decision to withdraw from Formula One racing at the end of the season - not even the drivers. Nick Heidfeld has a long history with the team, going back to the days of Sauber-Petronas, so thoughts of them leaving are even more painful for him. But as his contract terminates at the end of 2009, he had already started looking for possible alternatives - and he is absolutely determined to find a competitive seat for 2010...
Q: Nick, have you overcome the shock of BMW Sauber withdrawing from Formula One racing at the end of this season?
Nick Heidfeld: Yes, I have. But to be honest the announcement had come as a surprise for me as for everybody else. True, there have been discussions - especially after Honda had pulled out last winter - but all the feedback that Ive got was that BMW was committed to stay, and I was pretty sure that the decision for next year was already taken. I didnt expect anything of that sort and I think also internally it was a decision on short notice. When the decision was made they went public with it immediately, so I only knew on the same morning as everybody else. For sure, it was not great timing for the people in the factory - having that announcement and then going on holiday for two weeks, not knowing how their future will look, or what was going on. Now everybody is working very hard - Peter (Sauber) and Mario (Theissen) and BMW - to secure something for next year. Hopefully the Hinwil base will be there next year.
Q: Do you think that success this season would have made a difference? Robert Kubica says yes, Mario Theissen says that more likely it would simply have delayed the announcement
NH: This is something that I cannot answer. There you have to ask the board, but if you read the text of the decision that they have given out, I doubt it.
Q: After going out in Q1 of qualifying in Budapest you walked into the motorhome and slammed the door behind you. In hindsight, it seems this was an omen
NH: No, at that point I honestly didnt know about the danger of any pullout. I was just so down in that moment. Weve struggled so much with a car that didnt perform this year and then in Hungary I had a car that was really good. I was P3 in the Saturday practice session - sure, that didnt automatically mean that I would be P3 on the grid, but it should have been Q3 easily. Here in Valencia there is not much chance to overtake, so points here will be very difficult. To miss that chance in Budapest was a real disappointment, but coming back to the slamming of the door it had nothing to do with me knowing what would lay ahead. But yes, afterwards it looked like I knew - but I really didnt!
Q: Where did the teams development go so wrong this season? Instead of fighting for the championship as anticipated, its been a fight for the last few positions
NH: In hindsight it is easy to say where we went wrong. The double diffuser definitely was a big issue, especially at the beginning of the season. All the teams who had one were in front and we started developing one pretty late - definitely too late. In fact we were one of the last teams to have one on the car, and by then the others had so much of an advantage. Secondly, we did not manage to get our KERS running perfectly, despite having started very early with the development. I did use it for a few races at the beginning - in one race it was an advantage, two times it made things worse and once it didnt make any difference at all. If you can make it work as well as some teams have obviously managed to do there must be an advantage - unfortunately we were not one of them. Unfortunately KERS also takes up a lot of space and the aero was not at a maximum. Now weve stopped running KERS at the last couple of races and are trying to use the space where KERS was positioned to make the bodywork smaller and get more downforce. I would not say that KERS was a bad decision - sure, now you could argue that - but at the time we made the decision it seemed to be right. And see, some teams did make it work. Obviously they made a better job of it than us. If we had managed to do a better job with KERS we would still use it.
Q: Two days after the BMW press release Roberts manager announced that he is on the market. What about you? Are you determined to stay in F1 racing?
NH: Yes, I am also on the market. The team doesnt exist any more in the old form for next season and I didnt have a fixed contract with them anyway, so I was already in talks prior to that decision - obviously with BMW as well. Now, for sure, the talks are ongoing and intensifying. I am definitely determined to stay in F1.
Q: What about one of the new teams? They all must be looking for experienced drivers to push their development
NH: There are none I am looking at right now. I am speaking to present teams and to teams where I think that I can hopefully fight for wins in the future. And with all due respect to the new teams, I think that unless somebody is taking over BMW Sauber, it will be hard for them to come up with something competitive, given the amount of time that is available. And they are lacking the F1 knowledge that a team like BMW Sauber has acquired in the last ten years, so my guess is that they will have a difficult time in the beginning.
Q: Peter Sauber tried to come to an agreement with BMW on a takeover. That failed. Do you still hope that the team will be kept alive, and could there be a future there for you?
NH: I think that this team is capable of achieving something and I hope that for the rest of the season we can perform better. That would make it easier to attract interested parties - and it would also be good for BMW to finish on a high, as they for sure dont want to leave with such a result. For me personally this team would not be a new team. I know the development that is going on for next season and I am convinced that next season would be a completely different story to our struggle this year, so that would be an option for me. But what really happens with the team right now is impossible to say. There are interested parties, but there is not much time left to make a decision to put everything in place, so looking at the existing offers is paramount. It is a positive sign that BMW Sauber has applied for the 13th entry, but as they didnt sign early enough the chances are quite big that they would lose money and that makes it more difficult to find a buyer, as they would have to pay many millions more to compensate for the loss of the TV money.
Q: Will any further development work be done on the 2009 car? Or is the car thats here essentially it for the rest of the season?
NH: Yes, there will be development going on - and I was very happy to hear that. If they had stopped development with immediate effect after the withdrawal announcement, that would have meant a very hard rest of the season. But there will be upgrades made to the car and even for next year they are working normally on the 2010 car. Here we have a lightweight chassis and a relatively big update on the aero side, but the biggest update is planned for Singapore.
Q: So what do you hope for this weekend, in the light of BMW Saubers plans to leave the paddock with their heads held high?
NH: Well, this street track is not so much to my liking. Its not like Monaco or Singapore. The car feels much better and Q2 was the aim. As its hard to overtake here I have no predictions for the race, but be sure that I will give it my best to score.