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…

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  • Comments (5)
  1. Stuart,
    I am curious about one aspect of Renault. Do you know what the true feelings of the team are regarding Petrov’s abilities and do you think he is going to be around F1 for the long haul?

  2. I’ve always liked Heidfeld, always seems a nice guy who knows his stuff, but he’s always had this unfulfilled potential. Every year I expect him to improve over the last but it doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe he’s incrementally better, maybe not. I do think he is better than some give him credit for, certainly not a worldbeater but not bad.

    Interesting way of getting results from him.

    He is what LRGP needs right now with a new car and a still-raw guy in the other seat. I doubt whether that’ll be the case by June/July when they know the machinery, perhaps we’ll see a swap for Senna around then. With Kubica out of the picture let’s not pretend they’ll be in a title fight even with a great car (which it could be).

    • cvrt
    • February 14th, 2011

    By my count,there are only 4 drivers on the grid with the “killer instinct”. Why should not having it handicap NH?

    • Stuart C
    • February 15th, 2011

    @Leigh O’Gorman

    The general view – as opposed to any official opinion you may hear – is that for a pay driver Vitaly is actually pretty good. There were times last year – Hungary springs to mind – where during qualifying, given a single lap to deliver the goods, Petrov got nearly 100 per cent out of the car while Kubica didn’t.


    Heh, heh. Touché!

  3. If Heidfeld does not genuinely want to win, then how do you explain the sheer pain on his face after Montreal ’08, when he lost the race after having to let Kubica by for team-strategy reasons? If he lacks the killer-instinct, then how come he has a fine record of over-taking, including in 2008 over-taking two-drivers-at-once on three separate occasions? If not quick, then how has he out-scored team-mates including Räikkönen, Massa, Webber, Villeneuve (heavily), and Kubica? How do you know he would not have achieved the same performances at BMW under a different pay-structure, other than just guessing? So he struggled a bit thrown in at the deep end at Sauber last season for five races without any testing; he got them a few points which was about the most any driver would have managed in the circumstances. Put him in a race-winning car, he would win races, and probably be notably more boringly consistent than Webber, Vettel, or Alonso managed to be last year. Heidfeld lacks charisma but gets results.

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