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Nick Heidfeld Q&A: Much more to come from Renault 05 May 2011

Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP on the drivers parade.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 17 April 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP on the podium. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 10 April 2011 (L to R): Natalie Pinkham (GBR) BBC Radio Five Live Pit Reporter with Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai, China, Friday, 15 April 2011 Lotus Renault GP R31 of Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP is recovered back to the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai, China, Friday, 15 April 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 9 April 2011

Nick Heidfeld is the true ‘comeback kid’ of the Formula One paddock. In and out of drives since his time with BMW Sauber, ‘Quick Nick’ stormed the podium in Malaysia and still has an appetite for more - not only race wins, but also the championship. The German may have arrived at Renault as stand-in for the recovering Robert Kubica, but must now surely be considering a longer future with the team. He spoke exclusively to Formula1.com…

Q: Nick, after three races back in full racing mode are you satisfied with your performance so far?
Nick Heidfeld:
Not fully satisfied to be honest with you. I think both for me, having a podium, and for the team, having two podiums from three races, it’s very nice, but then again for both me and the team I think we didn’t maximize the potential that we had in those three races in terms of the points we scored. I am a bit disappointed with that, but then again there is that relief when I look at the calendar and see that there are still so many races to go, because there is a strong feeling that we can do much better than what we have shown so far.

Q: You say that you are not fully satisfied with yourself - where do you think you could have done better?
I think that the biggest mistake I’ve made was to destroy my front wing quite so early on in China in practice one. I pushed too much there - completely unnecessarily - because it was too early in the weekend where time didn’t mean anything. Unfortunately it was the only front wing of this spec that I had so after that there was not much I could do.

Q: Renault team principal Eric Boullier said that he dare not think how the team might be doing were Robert Kubica racing. Is the notion that somebody else might do better putting pressure on you?
No, because I know how I compare to Robert. We were team mates for four years - or three and a half seasons - so we know each other. Some people will probably tell you that Robert was quicker, but there are also numerous others who will swear that I was quicker and if you look at the real numbers we’ve always been pretty equally matched. I think I know pretty well where I stand compared to Robert, so such a notion doesn’t really trouble me.

Q: How good is the car really? Some of Renault’s competitors see the team in P3 in the current pecking order, even though the results don’t quite show it…
Yes, I think we have a good chance to be the third-quickest car. We have been on the podium - Ferrari hasn’t - and when it comes to raw pace we are fighting with Ferrari, with only Red Bull and McLaren in front. And, of course, Mercedes made a big leap forward in China, but weren’t there at the first two races. What we have to do is to bring our good performance home at every race - what we haven’t done, but should have done.

Q: It seems to be pretty even between you and your team mate Vitaly Petrov. Had you expected a bigger gap?
I had, to be honest. Remember Robert was quite easily stronger than Vitaly last year, so I didn’t expect it to be so close. I think he has made some good improvements and I would assume that he is as good as the team hoped he would be. That is very important for the team because if you want to fight for the constructors’ championship you need two guys to score.

Q: Coming back to your Malaysia podium, it had been a long time since you’d been up there. Have there been times when you thought it might never happen again?
It was of course a special moment, but it was not extra special. I was happy and satisfied, but I was also looking forward. I know that some people might not think it possible, but my target is not only to win a race but to win the championship. So I am not standing on a second position and thinking, ‘Oh, I want to die now because it is so nice’. My ambitions are definitely higher. Sure, all that’s happened now was not expected weeks and months ago, but you get used to the situation so quickly. You sit in the car and do testing and you are probably not so satisfied with it, but then I tell myself, ‘slow down Nick - a few weeks you didn’t even have a drive’. But as I just said, you get used to it so fast - and you have to because this is a fast moving environment.

Q: When you say that you have more on your mind than just a race win, that the appetite for the championship is still there, where do you go to satisfy this appetite?
Well, obviously I have to take it step by step. Sure, I am not happy with the first three races because it was not as it should have been, but it is my target to maximize what I can do and what the car can do. Then the rest should come because I very much believe that Renault has the potential to win. The team is not so different today as it was in the days when Fernando (Alonso) won the championship - and on top of that it has proved itself able to turn round after a difficult phase and re-invent itself.

Q: How much of an advantage was it having done the initial tyre tests with Pirelli?
It has been only a minor advantage because when I left they still continued to develop and changed the tyres quite a lot. I started working on the construction, but that didn’t have any impact on the compound. And I never drove the wet tyres, for example. It was probably more the aura that I had tested the new tyres when nobody else had, rather than the actual knowledge. Had I kept being a Pirelli test driver last year then it would have made quite a difference, but I decided to join Sauber for the last races because nothing compares to racing. Looking at where I am now it was the right decision for me.

Q: You weren’t racing for a year and there are a number of rookies on the grid right now who are doing quite well. Are rookies more competitive these days?
I haven’t thought a lot about that question. I certainly think that Formula One has become easier. I think some years the new guys coming in are simply better than in other years, but that is just by chance. I think it is dangerous to say that this situation will be the norm from now on because we have always seen in the past that there are years when newcomers are very strong, like Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso or Jenson Button, and many team principals seemed to think, ‘okay, from now on we only take new guys,’ but then it bounced back. So I think the mixture of young talent and sound experience is what makes a strong team.

Q: If you keep to the 2011 pattern so far - one poor race followed by one good one - this weekend should see you in front. What’s your guess?
If you look at it that way, yes, but that is not the target. The target is to be consistently at the top. There are at least four cars quicker than us so P5 could be the maximum that we might achieve - and I would be pretty satisfied with that. Red Bull and McLaren are quicker, but of course we will try anything to beat them with a good start or a better strategy. But sometimes you simply cannot achieve more than is in the car.

Q: You shocked the grid with your perfect start in Malaysia, so you know how to do it…
It was (perfect)! But for me it was a shock as well having Vitaly next to me. Normally you focus on everything that is around you, but in that moment I was flying past the others and looking back thinking that not many cars could be quicker than me - and suddenly I saw him on my outside!

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