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BMW Launch: Q and A with Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld’s beard and shaggy hair almost drew more media coverage in 2007 than his second-placed finish at the Canadian Grand Prix or third place in Hungary. Indeed, the hirsute element was like an invitation to take a closer look at this man – and the Mönchengladbach-born driver goes along with that. He talks about himself, stands by his convictions, and has no need to defend himself. He cohabits with his partner Patricia Papen. Their daughter is called Juni because her parents like the name – the same reason why they called their son, born in 2007, Joda. No, it has nothing to do with the Star Wars character, the proud father patiently explains.

For Nick Heidfeld freedom is one cherished value. That goes for his thinking as much as for his way of life. He knows how to turn his demanding career to his best benefit. He takes his family with him when he travels, he is curious about places, likes to stroll around buying fashion articles and art, takes in as much of the world as he can in between his commitments, and always keeps his eyes peeled for good restaurants. He is a gourmet and a pleasure-lover, and parties for all he’s worth. But only after he has done his work. He is a demanding driver in the best sense of the word, and he won’t rest until the very last batch of data has been evaluated. He knows that what he says counts. That’s because he has learnt his trade.

The man who has adopted Switzerland as his home, who launched surprise attacks to snatch wins and titles in all his earlier race series and who never thought he would last so long in Formula one, is nothing if not realistic: “Even if we shave off a few tenths of a second during winter, we will only be closer to Ferrari and McLaren but a long way from overtaking them. And who knows what kind of catching-up work we’ll see from the teams who could have done better in 2007. The hard slog is still to come, and it’s only when the going gets tough that you find out how well you really pull together as a team.”

Of one thing he has no doubt, though: he will be ready when the BMW Sauber F1 Team gets there. He wants to be Formula One World Champion.

What does happiness mean for you?
I distinguish between professional and private happiness. Privately, my greatest happiness is Patricia, Juni and Joda. Children are simply the greatest thing you can have. We’re a proper family, and I would like to see our children grow up with us in the same free and happy way that I was able to. In professional terms, I regard myself as basically very lucky to be able to do the thing that above all I always wanted to. Today I’m in a better position than ever because at last I’m in a car with which I can drive up there among the front-runners. That’s a great feeling. Also, I haven’t had as much bad luck as I used to and I’m very fit. Only if you’re in peak health can you prepare yourself optimally. That’s happiness as well – though sporting success in Formula One has little to do with happiness and more with precision work on and beside the track. But clutching a winner’s or championship trophy in my hands would certainly release quite a few happy hormones!

Do you ever feel fear?
Of course. Basically I’m sure that I’m afraid of the same things as every other person. Not that I’m in any way fearful in the sense of living an overcautious life. I don’t want our children to grow up like that either. In the race car there’s only one situation when I experience something like fear: if I’ve lost control and know I’m about to crash. That’s when you just hope it isn’t going to hurt and you take your hands off the steering wheel if you can.

Have you slowed down since your children came along?
Oh yes! But only if the kids are in the car.

What is luxury for you?
First and foremost it’s things that I don’t need but that I enjoy. The latest mobile phone, clothes, cars etc. One luxury I can’t buy and really relish is free time. Privately, I just love to potter about. Sometimes I really get on the family’s nerves.

Do you have more fans than you used to?
I don’t really know precisely, of course. At any rate, I get more fan mail and there are more members in my fan club. In fact, I really enjoy the club. It’s just as I imagine it. I’m not an exotic you can’t talk to. We have fun together, it’s a relaxed atmosphere. We go karting together and party together. From time to time members will travel great distances to the races and turn up in China or somewhere. I think that’s fantastic.

What is your view of the new standard electronics?
That’s an incredibly complex matter and demands a great deal of engineering work. Banning traction control is just one aspect, after all, though one I very much welcome. I enjoy having gone back to controlling the car with my foot. It’s crucial when exiting corners: you need a great deal of sensitivity to accelerate optimally out of the turns. For the established Formula One drivers it’s an adjustment, whereas the youngsters just coming from Formula 3 or GP2 have never driven with traction control. Another aspect is the tire development, which has to keep in step with the electronic adjustment because increased slip takes a different and higher toll on the rubber.

Which changes to the regulations would you like to see?
Firstly, I would like to drive on slicks again. Secondly, as a racing driver you can never have enough engine power. The V10 engines of the past were more fun, but I do see the safety aspect and the sense in reining in the technical possibilities.

Finally, what is your wish for 2008?
My wish is for us to achieve our season’s target this time round again and take home our first race win. Needless to say I want to be the driver standing up there on the top step of the podium. But the important thing first off is for us to get there as a team. Then I’ll seize my chance sooner or later.

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