How to get the best out of Nick Heidfeld
Amid much speculation as to who may replace the injured Robert Kubica at Renult/Lotus for at least part of the 2011 season, the driver often inexplicably known as “Quick Nick” threw his hat into the ring with a brisk performance during testing at Jerez over the weekend.
Heidfeld has always been a bit of an enigma to me: a tricky interviewee, on account of being rather shy, and on track a somewhat hot-and-cold performer in the Fisichella mould.
Given a sub-standard car Heidfeld, like Fisichella, could turn on the style. I was watching at the Esses during the truncated Sunday-morning qualifying session at Suzuka in 2004 (Saturday’s activities having been cancelled on account of an impending typhoon) and Heidfeld was remarkable in the Jordan. The car was pretty awful; Heidfeld seemed to be cajoling it into changing direction through sheer force of will alone. He was a second and a half quicker than Timo Glock, who was driving the other car.
I saw very little of this determination once he got his foot in the door at Sauber, where the general feeling was that he had a tremendous ability to work with the engineers to develop the car, but that this capacity was almost completely offset by his lack of a killer instinct while racing. He just seemed to be happy enough to be driving a quick car.
Should this factor in Renault’s decision-making process? Perhaps it should. At Sauber the driving arrangement worked because Mario Theissen hit on the perfect way to get the best out of Heidfeld: structure his salary according to results, so he was on a low flat fee but with a considerable points bonus. Heidfeld, therefore, delivered a succession of solid points-scoring finishes in strict accordance with the timetable Theissen had laid out for the team – that is, get in the points occasionally in the first year, get on the podium in the second, then start winning in the third.
At Sauber, though, the other seat was occupied by someone who genuinely did want to win races: Robert Kubica. Indeed, when Kubica replaced Jacques Villeneuve in 2006 Heidfeld immediately upped his game. This won’t happen at Lotus/Renault with Vitaly Petrov driving the other car…