Nick Heidfeld: the driver debates

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Nick Heidfeld is yet to score his first Grand Prix win
Nick Heidfeld is yet to score his first Grand Prix win

Nick Heidfeld out-scored team mate Robert Kubica at BMW in 2007 – but this year the tables have been turned: Kubica has out-qualified and often out-raced Heidfeld.

Should Heidfeld keep his seat at BMW for next year? Give your verdict on Nick Heidfeld below.

Nick Heidfeld was backed by McLaren and Mercedes in his junior career, but made his F1 debut with Prost before moving to Sauber.

Heidfeld’s fans often point out that he out-scored team mate Kimi Raikkonen at Sauber in 2001, but McLaren passed over Heidfeld in favour of Raikkonen. Heidfeld spent two more years at Sauber before being dropped and ending up at Jordan.

But his perseverance paid off and Williams tested him alongside Antonio Pizzonia to decide who would race for them in 2005. Heidfeld got the nod, and impressed by taking pole position at the Nurburgring and finishing second at Monaco.

As BMW chose to split from Williams at the end of the year to take over Sauber, Heidfeld was an obvious choice of driver for team boss Mario Theissen. Heidfeld easily had the beating of Jacques Villeneuve early in the season, but when new team mate Robert Kubica was drafted in halfway through the season Heidfeld had to up his game.

He out-scored Kubica through 2007 but this year his team has had the upper hand and scored BMW’s first win at Montreal, passing Heidfeld on the way. That must be galling for Heidfeld, who has now scored more second places without winning a race than any other driver in F1 history.

Heidfeld has had trouble getting the most out of his tyres in qualifying and his average starting position of 8.82 compares poorly with Kubica’s 4.45.

However he is within eight points of his team mate in the championship and is the only driver to finish every race this year. Should he keep his seat with the team for another year? And will he ever score that maiden win?

Nick Heidfeld has scored six second place finishes in his career - but no wins
Nick Heidfeld has scored six second place finishes in his career - but no wins

41 comments on “Nick Heidfeld: the driver debates”

  1. I think Heidfeld is good enough to keep his seat for next year. He’s done a good job for BMW over the past 3 years, beating Villeneuve easily (although he’s not much of a yardstick) and performing well against Kubica on the whole, even if Robert has had the measure of him this year. He deserves a chance to beat Kubica in the new 2009 car, and he certainly deserves a Grand Prix win.

  2. I think that Heidfeld should keep his seat at BMW for next year. Even though McLaren ended up making the right choice with Raikkonen, I felt that Heidfeld kind of deserved that McLaren seat at the same time.
    His perseverance with Sauber and Jordan really paid off, just when I thought he was going to fade away.

    Despite Kubica’s superior form this year over Heidfeld – he is only 8 points behind him – his fantastic constency obviously paying off – and if his qualifying woes (and BMWs recent lack of pace) are rectified by Valencia/Spa time – Heidfeld may even overtake Kubica in the final rounds. Heck, I feel he might even have a chance to win his first race if BMWs form returns for the final rounds.

    So, in short:
    Should he keep his seat for another year? Yes.
    Will he ever score that maiden win? In 2008: Unlikely but not impossible; 2009 or beyond: Definitely.

  3. Somone once told me that Jacques Villeneuve once said that Nick Heidfeld is the best car developer in F1. I haven’t been able to verify this quote, but I trust the person who passed it along to me.

    Villeneuve isn’t exactly the most credible person associated with Formula One, but I do think there may be something to this claim. He has been lauded before for his ability to work with engineers, and I don’t think that it’s much of a coincidence that his arrival at Sauber has coincided with a boost in performance (each time).

    I think Nick deserves to keep his ride with BMW. He’s a smooth driver who has had several great races this year despite lackluster qualifying (he’s actually got more 2nd place finishes than any other driver this year!). He’s most certainly a quick guy, as he’s beaten Raikkonen, Massa, and Kubica in the past as a teammate to each. He’s only 8 points behind Kubica right now, and he’s outscored him 21-17 since Montreal. BMW has the third best car on the grid this year, and he’s currently 3 points ahead of Kovalainen and lightyears ahead of Trulli. He’s certainly done a good enough job to justify retention.

    Why take on a driver like Alonso, who has a reputation for stirring up trouble within a team; or Rosberg, who has promise but has been inconsistent and hasn’t shown very good developmental ability; when you have a good and hard-working driver in Heidfeld who works well with the engineers, is a team player and class act, and has shown he can deliver great race performances (not to mention is currently leading the field in 2nd place finishes this year)?

    There is something to remember when considering drivers like Heidfeld and Button, who are in their late 20s and early 30s and haven’t yet won a significant number of grand prixs and/or a WDC while drivers just as old or younger (Raikkonen, Alonso, Hamilton, Kubica) have done so. Mika Hakkinen didn’t get his first career grand prix victory until he was 29 years old and his first WDC until he was 30. Like Heidfeld, Hakkinen was partnered by a younger teammate (Coulthard) who won before him and outscored him in the team’s turning point year. However, I think we all know how that McLarne story ended. Who is to say that Heidfeld can’t have similar success as BMW improves marches to the front?

  4. I agree 100% with Paige. I would add that a low profile driver like Heidfeld would have to be a dream come true for any team boss. Quick, intelligent, hard working and not distracted by the glitz or media. He’ll keep his seat, and he’ll win if BMW give him the car to do so.

  5. diseased rat
    11th August 2008, 0:51

    I believe that Heidfeld scored more points than any other driver over the 4 race period preceeding the last race.

    Despite his obvious qualifying troubles he is still within 8 points of his team mate who many are feting as the latest greatest thing. He clearly deserves to keep his seat and as Toby said above, he’ll win if BMW give him the car to do so.

  6. I believe Quick Nick should and will keep his ride with BMW for next season and hopefully beyond, for many of the same reasons contained in the comments before mine- he’s good to work with and produces no bad PR for the team, while turning in quality results more often than not. He may not be a superstar(yet), but he’s one of those drivers who every team boss probably wishes they had at one point or another. It’s not always easy for a veteran driver to deal with the sudden success of a new teammate, but Heidfeld has done a good job with Kubica’s success this season.

    As for the first win, I think Nick absolutley can get it and many more if he’s in a car that can at least compete with the front-runners. The only potential problem I see with this is Kubica’s recent success, and the possibility that the team may favor him in it’s strategy and priorities. BMW seem like a good and honest bunch, but with Robert having bagged the first win and having loads of good PR opportunities in a new market- Poland/Eastern Europe- would Dr. Mario and company elevate him to a Schumi-like status while keeping Nick in a pure support role?

  7. Nick should stay.
    I put the difference in Heidfelds’ performance from last year to this year down to the handling of the car/tyres.
    He had the measure of Kubica last year – I find it hard to believe that Kubica suddenly got that much better over the (painfully long) winter.

    I attribute that same issue to Bourdais Vs Vettel/Hamilton Vs Kovi. Even though I think Vettel is exceptionally talented, I wager that we’ll see Bourdais perform much better in the 2009 cars on slicks (shame they won’t be in the same team). I don’t think Hamilton is actually THAT much faster than Kovi either – I just think the development of the McLaren is targeted towards Hamilton’s preference.

    I believe car handling suiting particular drivers more than others is a factor often overlooked when it comes to driver comparisons. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few favoured drivers decisively beaten by their ‘lesser’ teammates next year with the new regs.

    But then, I just watch F1 on tv and read about it on the internet. What do I know?

  8. Heidfeld seat is or shouldn’t be in question at BMW; at least for a while. He has always done well and will continue to be one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. It was a shame that he wasn’t the one to get the team’s first win. No person on the grid has been so integral to their team’s development and success so far outside of perhaps DC at Red Bull.

    Not to add to what has been stated above. I think BMW need to change their strategy in qualifying to overcome his problems. Instead of being coy and leaving it all to the end of a session; why not have him run the entire session to get the tires up to temp? It burned them big time in Hungary; hopefully they will learn from that.

    I don’t think you can blame Robert or Nick for the “failure” of the team the last few weeks. I was apparent after Canada that BMW shifted their resources towards next year car. I just hope the man gets a win. It would be a shame to be a modern day Chris Amon.

  9. Trig,

    I find a number of your comments interesting. Going through them:

    “put the difference in Heidfelds’ performance from last year to this year down to the handling of the car/tyres.

    He had the measure of Kubica last year – I find it hard to believe that Kubica suddenly got that much better over the (painfully long) winter.”

    One thing that Kubica DID do over the winter, as has been so famously documented, is that he lost 7 kilograms (about 16-17 lbs), which gave the BMW engineers some room to play with in the weight distribution of the car. There’s no doubt that this has made a difference in his performance, particularly at the start of the season. I’m starting to wonder whether or not Kubica’s decline in performance in recent races (spinning off at Silverstone when he is one of the best wet drivers on the grid, spinning off in practice at Hockenheim, not being very competitive at Hungaroring) may be partly due to ill physio effects from having gone through such a harsh dietary regime.

    “Even though I think Vettel is exceptionally talented, I wager that we’ll see Bourdais perform much better in the 2009 cars on slicks (shame they won’t be in the same team).”

    He probably will, but a number of drivers on the grid have past experience racing on slicks. But what will probably help Bourdais relative to the rest of the field is the loss in downforce in next year’s car, as he has more experience in a lower downforce car more recently (Champ Car) than most. I would really like to see what Bourdais would do with a team that will be introducing a KERS device next year, as it somewhat resembles the “Power to Pass” system that Champ Car had that he gained experience using.

    “I don’t think Hamilton is actually THAT much faster than Kovi either – I just think the development of the McLaren is targeted towards Hamilton’s preference.”

    While I think Hamilton is the best on the grid right now, I agree that he’s not that much faster than Kovi and would chalk the performance difference up to Kovi still adjusting to the MP423 and, frankly, his rotten luck over the course of the year. Here’s a guy (Kovi) who beat Schumacher in a straight-up fight at the Race of Champions in 2004 and won the overall event against Sebastien Loeb, one of the best drivers in the world. I’ve long thought Kovi to be one of the top-5 talents on the grid, maybe even one of the top-3, and he is certainly WDC.

  10. – he is only 8 points behind Kubica who is by many considered the best driver this season
    – he is 5th in the standings
    – he is ahead of Kovalainen in the standings
    – he finished every single race this season so far
    – he has 3 podiums to his name this season

    the only thing going against him is his qualifying that often compromises his races. if Mr Theissen looks at the potential points Heidfeld has lost instead at points he has scored, Heidfeld may be in trouble

    I however hope they keep him for one more year and give him the chance to race with them on slicks …

  11. Am I the only one who thinks he shouldn’t keep his seat next year? He has not got the qualifying pace anymore it seems and as Kimi Raikkonen proved last GP, qualifying is all too important these days.
    I think Fernando Alonso should replace him, he is very good at car development and set up and could help BMW achieve their goals of winning the world championship.

  12. Regarding Kubica’s 2007 season.
    Let’s not forget that he lost at lest 2 podium finishes.
    One was at Fuji – when he got the most ridiculous in recent year drive through and another is…Shanghai (correct me if I’m wrong, when his car broke down while leading. He is not a moaning type of driver so he didn’t talk too much about his race engineer – they professional relationship was a joke. This season he’s got a new one, the car is reliable and…he lost some weight as Paige mentioned. Theissen said many times that Robert had a bad luck in 2007.

    Regarding Heidfeld.
    I do like him a lot – obviously I’ve never had a chance to meet him, but I somehow feel that the guy is a great chap. I like his attitude. He is very quick driver – I still think that he is the one most underrated. I’d love to see him next year alongside Kubica. Unfortunatelly for him the more important than attitute, consistency etc. is points bring home. So as milos mentioned…he just needs to improve in this field.

  13. I think Mclaren made the wrong decision on Kimi, Heidfield would have bought the car home on more

    much like he did at williams

  14. I think Nick IS quick, but he lacks that so-called killer/winner instinct.

    And if BMW are aiming for a title, they can either keep him as a reliable #2, or go for someone better and faster.

  15. I can’t agree that he lacks the killer instinct. Remember Silverstone in the wet with him passing two cars at a time, twice? The guy is a real hard but super smooth racer.

  16. Heidfeld deserves at least one more season at BMW – it’s so easy to have an off season in this sport; he’s shown he has the ability but it’s just not working for him this year, but all that could change for next season. Give the man a chance to prove he can do it.

  17. I think he definitely deserves another season as he has proven to be a consistently good driver….not great but good.

    I still continue to be unconvinced that he is Champion material. I hope I’m proved wrong cause he seems like a decent chap and he would be fantastic to work with whether he be someones colleague or a subordinate.

    But as Journeyer said, BMW really are looking for a title in 2009 and I think they might just keep him as the reliable #2 driver and get someone with a bit more X factor to take the reins for the Championship push.

  18. Nick Heidfeld is a great driver on the whole. However, I am a bit disappointed with his progress this year, especially on the qualifying side, not to mention that he hasn’t won a race yet when arguably there has been a chance (canada for example, but maybe that was a team decision).

    Last year he truly was Mr consistent. This year he is totally the opposite of that but his 2nd place finishes in Britain and Melbourne were impressive nevertheless.

    I believe Nick will have to prove that he can win races to really show why he is still in F1. But for his owns sake he needs to dramatically improve his qualifying performance if he is to make any impact.

  19. bernification
    11th August 2008, 16:15

    Nick has been a consistent and hardworking driver.

    I think he, along with a few others, has really struggled with qualifying and getting the front tyres up to temperature, and this has hurt his race strategy, and with the current aero configurations unless you have some kind of lucky break ala Piquet at silverstone or you are involved in pit stop races, it is very hard to pass cars with similar downforce and top speed.

    It has obviously galled him that he has been outqualified this season by Kubica (a very good driver no doubt), and I think must try harder is something Nick would be writing on his own end of year assesment, but no body else has the right to IMO.

    Getting rid for next year would be a big mistake- the guy is a born racer. Works hard and wants it. Next year, if the cars are going to be on the level playing field that is hoped, he will bag that first win. Or I’ll buy you all a drink. Ooops!

  20. diseased rat, but that’s the thing: he has to keep passing cars to get to the front. Kubica’s already AT the front, more often than not. As for killer instinct, I’d look at Canada 2008. He had a real chance of winning there, as long as he stayed within sight of his teammate. He wasn’t even close to doing that, and was dropping 3 seconds a lap to Kubica, when a more able driver may have been able to only drop 0.5-1 second a lap.

    He’s like Heikki in a sense, he’ll take the win when it’s on a plate, otherwise, he’ll just be there or thereabouts, but not P1. But while Heikki is young and can improve over time, Nick is getting old and is running out of time to prove himself. And Heikki’s already won a race too.

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