Exclusive interview - Nick Heidfeld on Pirelli 13 Sep 2010
Once you are consigned to the bench it can be very hard to get back in the game. The old sporting adage applies as much in Formula One as it does in any sport. Upping your value can help get you off the bench and that is exactly what former BMW Sauber racer and Mercedes GP reserve Nick Heidfeld has done by becoming Pirellis test driver, ahead of their F1 return next season. As the only driver with in-depth knowledge of the Italian firms new tyres, its no surprise that the German is already negotiating a possible race comeback
Q: Nick, you must have been one of the most sought-after people in the Monza paddock as no doubt everyone is keen to hear first-hand about your experiences with the new Pirelli tyres
Nick Heidfeld: Yep, I have already spoken to a lot of people - or people have spoken with me - but naturally they all know that I will never give any confidential information. So basically everybody will have to wait until the first tests with the Pirelli tyres, straight after the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Tyres are the black gold of motor racing - an ingredient that can help you win or lose, depending on whether you get it right. So a new supplier is a very delicate issue and one thats watched with great interest. Where would you say Pirelli stand at the moment?
NH: Looking at the two tests that weve already done, and those still to come, I would say that everything is going to plan. At least this is my personal feeling. Weve already done some developments that are going in the right direction - mainly working on tyre construction - and are just starting working on compounds now. Like everything in life, at the beginning you make the big steps but in the end its the fine-tuning that matters. What I can say right here right now is that we will have very good tyres next season.
Q: What is the main difference between the Formula One tyres you were racing last year and those youve just been testing?
NH: Of course there are differences. Different manufacturers approach the matter differently, as we saw some years ago with Bridgestone and Michelin. On the other hand, you get used to these differences pretty quickly and it is probably a bit too early to really point at specific differences as we are in the middle of the development process - and of course I am not allowed to go into details.
Q: Pirelli only won the tyre supply contract quite recently, so theyve have not had a lot of time to get their act together. What did they bring to the first test? How well prepared were they?
NH: Yes, indeed there was not much time between the decision and the first test, but they came to Mugello very well prepared. Mugello is quite a hard circuit with many quick corners and many long straights and for a first test it was not the easiest of places, but they came there with enough tyres to have a sound base and even had test tyres prepared. Luckily last years Toyota is a very reliable car for such a job, so we were able to complete our program every single day and did a lot of mileage.
Q: How long before Pirelli are perfectly prepared for the 2011 season? We have over six months to go - will that be enough?
NH: I think so. From what I have experienced from testing I have to say they are doing a very good job - but of course it is not easy. Bridgestone have been in Formula One for so many years and they know all the circuits, so they can always fall back on their huge information database. So I expect it to be a bit difficult to always bring the perfect tyres to a specific track, as it is not only about developing and producing the tyres, but also to have information on what to expect every single Grand Prix weekend.
Q: From what you know of all the Formula One teams, who do you think will immediately get on well with the new tyres?
NH: That is impossible to say, because it is not easy to say whether youd prefer a car that is hard on the tyres or easier. In the past we have seen problems with the heat-up of the tyres - not only for one year, but for many years. So it is difficult to produce the perfect car - and that goes the same for the tyres. At this stage predicting which tyres will suit which car - not knowing exactly how the car will look - is impossible. I think a good step from the FIA and FOTA was to define a one percent weight distribution limit for next season - that is the biggest gamble one can take. Some teams will get it right straight away and others wont. So it was important to have a window where everybody works in, to have a good pace for everybody.
Q: The first tyre tests for all teams will be straight after the season finale in Abu Dhabi. By then most teams will have more or less finalised the design of their 2011 car, without ever having tested the new rubber. Is that an ideal situation?
NH: It is not ideal - but its the same for everyone. Once again the major point for me that makes it feasible is the weight distribution. That is defined now so all should be fine.
Q: Can you say something about how you came to be chosen as test driver for Pirelli?
NH: Well, as a reserve driver with no cockpit you naturally start to look around to find opportunities to drive and once it was clear who the supplier would be we got in contact with them. And once the contact was made it was all pretty much straightforward. I think they were looking for somebody who had been around for quite a while, and I think it is good for the teams that there is a driver involved who has paid his dues in racing.
Q: How will the fact that you are the most knowledgeable driver with the new tyres boost your own career?
NH: Well I think it is obvious that this fact helps. We are in talks with a couple of teams and everybody knows that I am helping Pirelli develop the tyres. So yes, it is a bonus, and yes, there are definite talks for next season, but so far no signature. I am quite confident of making a return to the grid next year. I am very thankful to Mercedes that they let me go. They always said that they would not stand in my way should there be an opportunity for me, and they didnt.
Q: How much would your Pirelli knowledge help any team you were to race for next season?
NH: It is no secret that Im not doing these tests for money but in order to pave my way back into a cockpit for 2011. I am helping Pirelli to develop their tyres - I give them my comments, they implement them, and so we improve the tyres step by step. That should be an asset for many teams.