Exclusive Q&A with Renaults Nick Heidfeld 09 Jul 2011
Rushed in to fill the Renault seat left empty by the injured Robert Kubica, Nick Heidfeld joined a team which very quickly started to look like one of the seasons most promising dark horses. However, the podium finishes scored at the first couple of races have long since dried up, and Heidfeld and team mate Vitaly Petrov have found themselves fighting tooth and nail with the Mercedes drivers to help Renault keep hold of fourth place in the constructors standings. The German reviews his season so far and discusses his hopes for Sunday...
Q: Nick, its been a little tough for Renault. Has the team lost a bit of momentum?
Nick Heidfeld: Well, I think it is fair to say that weve fallen a bit behind compared to the beginning of the season. But the good thing is that we understand more and more where our problems are, which of course is not fully satisfying but it is the first step in the right direction. We all know that dramatic changes do not come overnight, but I know that there are good updates coming up for the next couple of races. We had some podiums at the beginning of the season - and though some might argue that this was due to others misfortune - we delivered perfect races, so we fully deserved those results. But there have also been races where we severely struggled, like in Monaco. That was the low-point of our season so far because there were hopes that we might fight for a podium finish as the car was really good there. But I am convinced that we will move forward again and it would be nice to see this trend before we head into the summer break.
Q: What happened to the ambitions to make this the teams breakthrough season?
NH: Ah, I think it is good for a team to have high ambitions because you have to try a lot to be successful. If you dont permanently try to raise your game you may as well wrap-up and go home. I think we are still better than last year - we are fourth in the constructors right now, with Mercedes behind us. Its true three points dont represent a lot but you also have to look at who we are fighting. They are a big manufacturer, so its far from easy. I think as long as a team is moving forward consistently its a good sign.
Q: Development seems to have stagnated recently. What is going on?
NH: Well, we have some theories and some ideas why it is that way, but I am not 100 percent convinced that these are the real reasons. I have some ideas myself but as I am not sure either, I will keep them to myself at the moment.
Q: You have been criticized for not delivering better results, but are better results possible? Should you not be criticising your team?
NH: I do that internally. Eric (team principal Boullier) was quite outspoken after Monaco. He was not happy with qualifying and after Monaco everybody in the team was a bit down. But to come back to your questions, I would say that at all of my races so far this season I have almost always achieved the maximum. But I have to admit that in some qualifying sessions I could have done better, although in almost all cases it would not have influenced the outcome of the race a lot. But yes I agree that qualifying has been a bit of an Achilles heel for me, but I have now changed my driving and set-up. I changed the brakes in Canada which was a big help, so I can truly say that in the last couple of races Ive performed almost to maximum. Okay, in Canada the crash was very unfortunate, and even now with hindsight, I dont know what I could have done differently in that situation. Kamui (Kobayashi) didnt do it on purpose, but when he suddenly decelerated at a point where you normally accelerate, I was simply not able to react quickly enough to the situation. I am reasonably happy with my season so far.
Q: When you say that you could have been better in qualifying at some races what do you mean?
NH: Using the tyres better and getting them to work better. This is not a problem I am experiencing for the first time. It is something that has happened to me since we have had a single tyre manufacturer. The tyres are a bit harder and more difficult to heat up. I blame myself for that and now I have found a way to cope with tit better. Saying that I also think that our car is perfect in the way it uses the tyres and we are working constantly to improve.
Q: So in terms of the upgrades, when will they be introduced and will they help you in qualifying?
NH: Unfortunately there will be nothing specifically to help heat up the tyres, but I think that I have found my way around that issue myself. It is very difficult to know what to do to help tyre heat-up and tyre usage. I have been in Formula One now for a while with many teams and I think that most of the time teams are rather lucky or unlucky with what they get in terms of tyres heating up. Only occasionally do people know exactly what to do. I know that sounds a bit crazy but tyres are one of the most difficult issues around a Formula One car.
Q: Do you mean that it could just be down to sheer luck?
NH: Yes, in most of the cases. There is clearly a thing that can help tyre heat-up - and that is more downforce. But in terms of the mechanical layout of the car and telemetry it is almost a closed book and I would say that only a handful of people know what to do.
Q: Are you using the opportunity you have been given to race to the full?
NH: Well, it was quite late when I found out there was a chance to race again. My best hope at the start of the year was that I may be able to jump in somewhere, like I did last year, in whatever car. But to do a full season in a good car was way beyond my imagination. I would have loved to have a car that would make it a bit easier to show your true colours. When you go to the podium people recognise your potential very easily, but when you are stuck in midfield - even if you do a good job - people hardly realise it. As I said, I had to improve my qualifying form because I was not happy with that, but other than that I am quite happy about how I have been doing so far this season.
Q: You had the possibility of winning your first race back in Montreal in 2008, but you let your team mate Robert Kubica pass by into the lead. Would you do it again?
NH: If I was at the end of my career and had never managed to win a race, I would answer yes. Right now, I am not sure. It was a strategic decision and I made it easy for Robert to get by because by doing so we had a one-two finish. If I hadnt let him pass I would have finished in P1 and Robert probably in P5 or P6, so from a team perspective it was clear what I had to do.
Q: So you were being a team player
Q: What would you think Jacques Villeneuve or Lewis Hamilton would have done in such a situation?
NH: They would not care. But I have to say that specific 2008 situation had something to do with the fact that my qualifying was not so superb and I had some other minor issues, so my season was not that perfect. In 2007, when I had a really good season and the team asked me on another occasion to let Robert pass, I didnt do it. But this was a matter of having the power to do it.
Q: Obviously the team and drivers need a good result this weekend to fend off Mercedes and keep P4 in the constructors standings. What are the chances?
NH: Yes, this could be a crucial race for us. I hope that the odds are on our side. If you look at all the good teams and compare them, Mercedes are always better in qualifying and then in the race they lose out. But that might have something to do with tyre usage. I think with all the changes that have come upon us lately it will be a very interesting race, even though I have to say that such a change in the middle of the season is a bit strange to say the least. People are arguing that it is not a rule change but a clarification. They make decisions five minutes into the session and then only hours later revoke everything. Its all a bit strange. But whatever the rules are, I hope that we will do a good race.
Q: Are you already thinking about next year?
NH: Yes I am and I am doing that by focusing entirely on this season. Nothing is more convincing than good results. I would like to stay at Lotus Renault very much but I dont know what the exact situation is with both Vitaly - and even less so with Robert.
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