Now that Sauber has signed Sergio Perez for 2011 (is there anyone who didn’t see this coming?), Nick Heidfeld’s best chance of a full-time drive next season is gone. With Michael Schumacher taking the role of Older German Hotshot and Sebastian Vettel filling the void as Younger German Hotshot, the question remains: is there a place for Nick Heidfeld in Formula 1? And if so, where?
If Heidfeld wants to stay in the sport, then his best chance is probably with one of the new teams. Schumacher is unlikely to re-retire, filling the second Mercedes seat, and even if he does, then I expect Adrian Sutil or Timo Glock would receive the call-up. And Renault have made it known that they want to keep Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault, but if Petrov doesn’t live up to expectations, they’ll have Kimi Raikkonen. Nick’s best shot at a “good” drive is a long one: Schumacher retires, Adrian Sutil crosses the floor to Brackley to take his place, and Heidfeld works his way into Force India to play mentor to Paul di Resta (possibly with a one-off replacement to give Karun Chandhok a go in New Delhi).
That leaves Lotus, Virgin and Hispania as Nick’s most realistic options. Virgin already have Glock and are said to have offered a place to Jerome d’Ambrosio if he can put a sponsorship package together. Lotus seem to be waiting for Renault to make a decision about Petrov, because if Renault decide not to keep the Russian, he will most likely go to Lotus alongside Kovalainen. If Heidfeld wants the second Lotus seat, he has to hope a) Renault keep Petrov, b) Jarno Trulli retires and c) Lotus decide not to take a young driver like Fairuz Fauzy or Pastor Maldonado. Hispania is anyone’s guess; there are doubts they will even make it to the end of the season, much less the next one – but if they have funding lined up and a car on the way (the smart way to play it; endure 2010 and start 2011 tabula rasa), an experienced driver like Heidfeld with most-recent experience than Klien could be the order of the day. But Hispania have already forged a dark reputation and it will be hard for them to coax anyone over. Finally, Heidfeld can hope that Jacques Villeneuve buys Toro Rosso and that a seat is open. Heidfeld-Buemi could be a decent starting point for the team, but if Villeneuve wants to drive, then expect Villeneuve-Buemi.
So, if there is nowhere in Formula 1 but sub-par drives and testing roles, what is there for Nick Heidfeld? Should he follow in the steps of Anthony Davidson and try his hand at sports cars and Le Mans? Should he do a Kimi Raikkonen and go sideways around corners? Or should he consider retirement and leave motorsport behind altogether?