Interview with Nick Heidfeld
The word on the street is that you're a changed man. Is that true?
BMW Sauber F1 Team driver Nick Heidfeld: Do you mean because of the beard?
Not only that. People are saying you're more open now.
Heidfeld: In my mind I have always been quite open. I was just less in demand before. Added to which, it's rather more enjoyable to be talking about a battle with the world champion or a podium finish than explaining why you've trailed in 17th again.
Did you think before the start of the season that you would be able to take on Fernando Alonso fair and square this year?
Heidfeld: No, we have exceeded expectations. I was sure that we would step up a level in our second season on the grid. Having said that, we finished fifth in the constructors' standings last year - 50 points off fourth place - and there was no way I could have expected us to be the third-best team already.
What do you put this success down to?
Heidfeld: We already had a good group of people on board, but now we also have the resources of a leading team. We've brought in 150 new people at our Hinwil base, the wind tunnel is in use around the clock, we are better equipped at the race track, and a program of expansion is under way at the factory in Hinwil. It's something of a building site at the moment, but the work will be completed by the end of the year.
What more can be done to reach the very top?
Heidfeld: I hope it's just a matter of time. The F1.07 is, in effect, the first genuine BMW Sauber. Even more experience and resources will go into next year's car. We are heading in a positive direction. This team has given me the big chance I have been waiting for such a long time.
How does a race have to go for you to be really happy? Is a podium finish now the minimum requirement?
Heidfeld: No, it's not so much finishing on the podium that makes me happy, but more if I've driven well - if I've picked up a few positions and not made any mistakes, in other words. In short, I'll be happy if I've made the best of what I've got.
Is the GP at the Nürburgring a special race for you personally?
Heidfeld: Yes, definitely. It's my home race, and nowhere do so many of my fans come to cheer me on than at the Nürburgring. This support is fantastic, and I also have a lot of fond memories tied up in the circuit. The Nürburgring is very close to Mönchengladbach, where I was born and grew up. I learnt to ride a bicycle at the Ring when I was three, and in winter we even went sledging on the Hohe Acht slopes. The first time I drove a kart myself was on the old karting track at the circuit - with a tire and a blanket wedged behind my back so that I could reach the pedals. Since then I've driven a lot of races on the Nürburgring and recorded victories in almost all the series I've competed in there - Formula Ford, Formula 3 and Formula 3000. In 2005 I took my first Formula One pole position in the Eifel mountains with BMW Williams and finished second in the race itself. We didn't do so well there last year, and it would be great if we could get back among the Ferraris and McLarens at my home race this time around.
Does it bother you that you don't yet have a contract for 2008?
Heidfeld: Not especially, I've been through far tougher times. I'm not concerned about the situation.
How do you get on with your teammate Robert Kubica?
Heidfeld: Robert is a very good team-mate for me. I like him - he's honest and he's a fast driver. It's a lot of fun driving alongside somebody who is always quick. That is good for the team and good for your own motivation.
Your results are better than Robert's, yet he sometimes gets more praise and attention than you. Why is that?
Heidfeld: Last year, it was just a typical Formula One situation. New drivers are always hyped up at first, but that settles down after a while. I believe I am well thought of in Formula One.
Your second place in Canada did get drowned out somewhat, though.
Heidfeld: That was due to Robert's accident, which affected people, of course - myself included.
What are your memories of the accident?
Heidfeld: There was certainly a very distressing period until I knew that he wasn't seriously injured. Every lap I drove past the scene of the crash and I also saw pictures of our engineers with their hands on their heads on one of the big screens. It was then that I knew that something serious had taken place. During the laps behind the Safety Car I also had more time, of course, to think about what had happened than at race speed. When the race was waved on again, though, I focused one hundred percent on the job in hand. If you don't maintain total concentration the consequences can be even more serious.
How does your partner deal with the risks of your job?
Heidfeld: Patricia would certainly rather I had a less dangerous career. But she knows that racing is my passion and part of who I am.
You are set to become a father for the second time. How exciting is that?
Heidfeld: Extremely! Having children is the most wonderful thing in the world to me. I've always wanted to have kids, but we only really realized how amazing being a parent can be when Juni arrived. She recently had her second birthday.
As a racing driver, is it possible to be a good father given all the traveling and time spent at work?
Heidfeld: I hope so. When I'm at home, I'm there one hundred percent the whole day long. Many fathers with "normal" jobs don't see their children in the morning because they're asleep - or in the evening, as they're back in bed again. In that respect, I'm a lot better off.