Saturday, August 30, 2008
The Case Against Nick Heidfeld
Nick Heidfeld, a quiet, reserved German, veteran of 146 F1 races, a professional and well liked in F1 circles. He has always been a driver that people regard as talented but always lacked a good car. He has demonstrated that he can be quick, consistent and reliable. Nick has done a solid job for BMW-Sauber. However, BMW-Sauber can do without Heidfeld. Up and coming driver, Robert Kubica has emerged as the true leader of the team in that he has demonstrated his quickness and his ability to adapt and develop. Also, he has already achieved what Heidfeld has failed to do in 146 races...win. Although Heidfeld has bounced from team to team in his career, teams find him talented enough to continue to employ him.
However, I believe the beginning of the end for Heidfeld was in 2006, when 1997 F1 World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve was his teammate. After performing well at Williams in 2005, then engine supplier BMW brought Heidfeld with them when they acquired the Sauber F1 team. Heidfeld looked rather average against Villeneuve, a driver many had considered to be over the hill. It was assumed that the car was rather average and Heidfeld was doing the maximum with the car.
BMW-Sauber decided to replace Villeneuve during the season with test driver Robert Kubica. In his first race, the 2006 Hungarian GP, he impressed a lot of people in variable conditions. Then almost as if a switch was turned on, Nick Heidfeld raised his game seemingly being able to extract more performance out of the car. It was at that moment, Heidfeld was truly exposed as not having the internal motivation or the ability to move a team ahead in my opinion. A team does not need a driver like that, particularly at the price needed to retain him. In addition to this apparent lack of motivation, given the reduction of testing and the fact that there is a single tire supplier and engine development is virtually frozen, there has been a reduction in the importance of car development skills from a driver. This diminishes the need of one of Heidfeld's strengths hence reduces his value to the team.
So, who would replace Heidfeld? There have been rumors linking Fernando Alonso with BMW-Sauber, but I will tell why BMW does not need Alonso. They have Kubica. Kubica sits 4th in the championship with a real shot of finishing 3rd overall in the 3rd best team. Although Kubica and Alonso reportedly have a very good relationship, it is rather different to be friends as teammates in a sport where your teammate is considered your biggest rival because he has the same car. BMW may think twice about Alonso for fears of reliving the drama that was McLaren in 2007.
An ideal 2nd driver for BMW-Sauber would be current reserve and test driver Christian Klien. There would be little conflict from Klien in supporting a championship push for Kubica and BMW in 2009. Klien has experience with nearly 50 F1 races under his belt, he already knows the BMW equipment, he generally does not make a mess of things on track, and he is cheaper than Heidfeld. If he can provide similar results to Heidfeld at a reduced cost and perhaps provide a different exposure to sponsors, then the choice of Klien would be a good, safe choice to support Kubica.
In conclusion, it is rather simple; if one was to look at Heidfeld objectively he amounts to a journeyman driver that will keep the car on track and not make any waves that would damage the team PR-wise. That might work for a team like Toro Rosso or Force India, but not a team that is looking to get championships like BMW-Sauber.