Q&A with BMW's Nick Heidfeld
Q. Nick Heidfeld, are you happy with the team's preparations for the season so far?
Nick Heidfeld: "This year our preparations have been like a journey of discovery. There are so many new things about the car which all of us have had to get to grips with, and that's a lot of fun. As far as I'm concerned, the testing we've conducted so far has been very positive. The F1.09 is already driving pretty well for a completely newly developed car and it reacts well to changes in set-up.
"We can still improve on reliability but at no time have we been confronted by unsolvable problems and we have racked up more miles than several of our rivals. However, the restrictions on testing mean that every lost mile on the track tends to hurt. We've been able to make consistent improvements and still have a lot more ideas which we can develop.
"Unfortunately, I can't say where this puts us in comparison with our rivals - everybody keeps their cards close to their chests in testing. You never know exactly what kind of program the other teams are running, let alone how much fuel they have on board. I'll be happy when all the guessing games come to an end in Melbourne."
Q. Which of the changes to the car do you like most?
NH: "Firstly, I think the idea underpinning all the changes is the right one; after all, the aim was to make overtaking easier. I also think that the interplay of the various factors will have an effect here, if only to a certain degree – Formula One is not about to suddenly become like touring car racing. I'm pleased to see the return of slick tires.
"I never liked the fact that, in Formula One of all competitions, we didn't have slicks for such a long time. The effects of the noticeably reduced downforce on the cars' aerodynamics require an adjustment in driving style."
Q. Can you explain to us when and how you gain by adjusting the front wing from your steering wheel, as the regulations now allow.
NH: "It can enhance the car's balance in various types of corner. However, we are only allowed to use this system twice per lap – i.e. we can make one adjustment to the wing and then return it to its original setting. I doubt whether it really helps in terms of making overtaking easier, but that's something we'll see in the races."
Q. And how are you getting on with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS)?
NH: "This is good fun as well. It's great when you press the Boost button on the steering wheel and feel the extra shove of 80 horsepower. In testing I also got my first experience of how it feels when another driver presses the button and you don't – you're just left standing. You have to plan really well how you use this additional power, and that's the job of the driver during the race. We are allowed to press the button for 6.5 seconds per lap.
"The system's main advantage is for overtaking when you're up close behind someone, for example in the opening stages of a race. As soon as we have reached 100 km/h – and that takes less than three seconds – the electronics release the Boost button. You just need to have charged up the energy storage unit first, of course."
Q. Aren't all these functions confusing for you as a driver?
NH: "You get used to them. Although I'd have to say that my steering wheel was clearer when we still had our own BMW electronics, before the introduction of the standard F1 electronics. Back then we had some clever sub-levels for various functions."
Q. What is your personal aim for the season?
NH: "That's been the same for years. My goal is to get everything possible out of the car and the situation on each lap and each race weekend. What is actually possible is determined to a large degree by our technical performance. The aim of the team is to be involved in the title battle in 2009. In the past few years we have always met our intermediate targets and I hope we manage to do that again in 2009."
Q. Which would mean you'd have a good chance of recording your maiden Grand Prix victory...
NH: "Yes, in order to do that you have to have a car underneath you that is capable of winning. That's what I'm hoping for, of course, and that's what we are working to achieve."
Q. What is your contribution here?
NH: "I provide as much input as I can in the development of the car. I explain to our engineers exactly how the car feels and where I'd like things improved. I'm not a development engineer, but I think that my experience enables me to offer feedback which can bring the team forwards. Another aspect is my physical fitness. I've done more fitness training this winter than ever before, and it has helped that we've had more time available due to the testing restrictions. I feel extremely fit now."
Q. Have you also been on a starvation diet? There has been much written about a slimming mania in Formula One.
NH: "No, I haven't been on a starvation diet, and that would also be the wrong way to go. There is a connection between weight and performance. Hardcore dieting only weakens you. But I have been paying a lot of attention to what I eat and have gradually lost two-and-a-half kilos despite the extra muscle I've built up in training."
Q. Given the restrictions on testing, will you also need to step up your training program during the season?
NH: "For sure. The best fitness training for a Formula One driver is driving a Formula One car. We'll need to make up for spending less time in the car."
Q. Will you still have time to get married? You're engaged now, of course…
NH: "We haven't set a date yet, but that won't create a problem. The ban on testing should make it possible."
Q. What's your view on the cost-cutting approach adopted by Formula One?
NH: "I think it's very important, and some of the ideas are already bearing fruit. Each driver now only has eight engines for the whole season, for example, and we won't be doing any more testing from the middle of March. This is the first time that the teams involved in the World Championship have agreed on such major changes.
Q. And that is something that should be warmly welcomed in the current economic climate." the Even if you are hit in the pocket as a result?
NH: "Nobody is happy about salary cuts. The driver is clearly an important factor in the team. BMW draws up an objective cost-benefit analysis for every area of the team's budget and has never paid "fantasy" salaries. As in the past, it's just about reaching an agreement."