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Exclusive Nick Heidfeld Q&A - An opportunity too good to miss 23 Feb 2011

Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP.
Formula One Testing, Day 2, Barcelona, Spain,  Saturday, 19 February 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Monday, 21 February 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Monday, 21 February 2011

His nickname may be ‘quick Nick’, but increasingly ‘the comeback kid’ seems just as appropriate. From taking over Pedro de la Rosa’s BMW Sauber cockpit last season, to securing the 2011 Renault seat left vacant by the injured Robert Kubica, Nick Heidfeld is adept at seizing whatever opportunity comes his way. And with the R31’s aggressive design setting tongues wagging up and down the pit lane, could he have finally found himself in the right place at the right time?

Q: How does it feel to be back for what could be a whole season?
Nick Heidfeld:
Whether it is for the whole season is not clear right now, but of course I am ready and available for the whole season! The biggest sensation is that I did not expect to race this year. The test season had already started, so I was in talks with Mercedes to get my old job from last year back, plus I had the option to sit in one of ‘those’ cars, which I still had no interest in. This chance came completely out of the blue. At the start of it there was definitely the emotional need to get my head clear because there was the emotional strain of coping with Robert’s accident while knowing that this could be a chance for me. It was not an easy situation, but I had to take the chance that came my way. In my long years in Formula One I have made my own experiences. I only started to believe that I am in again when the ink on the contract had dried. Sure, I felt happy because it was so unexpected.

Q: You have profited from somebody else’s bad luck. How do you deal with this?
NH:
I did some intensive soul searching - probably more intensive than most others would have done - and now I would say that I have cleared the situation for myself. It was not my fault what happened to Robert and I truly wish he’ll be back soon - that is one side. The other is that I had to grab the opportunity and feel happy to be driving again.

Q: Anybody would have taken the chance…
NH:
I am sure. But it still leaves a stale taste knowing that if it goes badly for somebody else this could be your chance. It is a hard-to-swallow situation, believe me.

Q: The situation must have been even more delicate as it was your former team mate…
NH:
It truly is unusual, but in the end I would say that it didn’t make a huge difference emotionally.

Q: How did Robert take the news you were going to replace him?
NH:
I have no idea - I can imagine that it is an extra motivation for him to get back even sooner! (laughs)

Q: Let’s get back to the racing. Since Kubica’s sensational outing in Valencia the situation seems a bit subdued at Renault…
NH:
Probably after Robert’s fastest time in Valencia and mine in Jerez the expectations were a bit too high. It is still difficult to say where everybody is, but my guess is that there are still some teams ahead of us - especially Red Bull. But it is a good basis to build on. On Saturday I had problems with the balance of the car. It was unexpected as the car had really good balance in Jerez. Due to some issues we didn’t have the chance to run as much as we wanted to so we split the last three days into one and a half days for each (driver) which meant that I had only two and a half hours and that is a bit short to go into all the details.

Q: It is rumoured that the car’s extreme design has been honed to suit Kubica’s preferences. Is that true?
NH:
I think it is pretty extreme in that we have a rather unusual exhaust and the objectives of the team seem to have been to take some risks in the design to close the gap to the frontrunners and not end up stuck in midfield. If you want to close the ranks to the leaders you have to start thinking out of the box. How much it is true that the car was built around Robert I cannot say as I simply don’t know how easy such a task would be. I am sure he gave a huge amount of feedback last season as the clear number one in the team so I assume his feedback was incorporated into this car. If this is a ‘Robert-spec’ car that is difficult for others to handle I could not say. I take it as it is.

Q: There was no drive anywhere in sight, but you obviously still kept yourself fit over the winter. Was the driving reflex there as soon as you got into the car in Jerez?
NH:
Yes and no. It took me about half a day to feel comfortable again. When you first get into the car it is not an immediate fit. It takes a bit of time, but as many things have been standardised over the years - even if the buttons on the steering wheel probably don’t look exactly the same, they basically all do the same things - so after the initial warm-up I was pretty quickly able to tell the team how we should handle things. I have to say that the team has made it very easy or me. They have welcomed me very warmly and we immediately found a good working basis.

Q: How is the feedback from your new team mate?
NK:
It’s okay. I have nothing else to report.

Q: So you are now Vitaly Petrov’s bellwether?
NH:
That is not my goal. I just want to get the best and the maximum out of a situation and everything else will fall into place, like probably being the number one in the team. Clearly this is the goal, but no concentration is going into it because that would tie up too much energy that could be used better somewhere else.

Q: As Renault demanded an experienced driver as the replacement for Kubica you must have the responsibility for setting the direction…
NH:
That’s for sure. But that sounds like pressure coming from the team and that is definitely not so. I think the team is quite happy with what I’ve done so far and positive feedback always lifts morale.

Q: The team had high hopes for this season and given the fact that it is owned by a venture capital company, is there pressure coming from that side?
NH:
Not at all. My impression is that the team is not meant to be a vehicle to make money. The first aim is to be successful on the track - and only then, if making money is somewhere on the horizon, can you achieve that by attracting sponsors. The fact is that the team have proved that they are able to attract sponsors where many others failed. I think some of the other teams would wish to create such synergies for their companies as Genii is able to do. And from the talks that I had with them I know that they are very ambitious to be successful.

Q: What’s up next?
NH:
Paramount for us is to do mileage. That was a bit of a shortcoming due do some technical problems. On the first Barcelona test day we had some issues with the KERS software which haunted us almost the whole day. Then we had a bit of an issue with the cooling system and I am hopeful that we’ll get that sorted out pretty soon. But there are other teams who’ve been able to run many more kilometres than us and with so few test days that’s always difficult to make up for.

Q: Most of the big teams speak about major upgrades for the first race. Have Renault planned the same?
NH:
Yes, we also plan an upgrade. How big it is compared to the others we will have to wait and see.

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