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Analysis: Heidfeld Outshines Schumacher

It is easy to overlook Nick Heidfeld, not least because he is one of the shortest drivers in Formula One at just 1.65 metres tall

The soft-spoken German has also long been in the shadow of Ferrari's seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher and even eclipsed for most of his career by his flamboyant compatriot Ralf Schumacher, now driving for Toyota.

But Heidfeld finally got rid of the unwanted title as 'least visible German' on Saturday by winning the first pole position of his 90-race career for Sunday's European Grand Prix.

Coming just one week after his career-best second place at the Monaco Grand Prix last Sunday, the 28-year-old Williams driver has now qualified ahead of Michael Schumacher five times in seven races this season.

As thrilled as he is to start from the front of the pack, Heidfeld said he wished he could remain just another face in the crowd in Germany and was already feeling uncomfortable about being recognised on the street after his Monaco heroics.

"I would rather remain anonymous," Heidfeld said after upsetting favourite Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren and the rest of the teams with the first pole position for Williams since the Canadian Grand prix almost a year ago.

Why anonymity?

"So I could go about my everyday life without feeling or being bothered by anyone," Heidfeld said.

Heidfeld jumped to fifth place with 17 points in the Championship following his second place in Monaco, which was capped by an exciting manoeuvre in the battle for second in overtaking Championship leader Fernando Alonso of Renault.

Not Sunk In

Heidfeld, who could climb to third with a win on Sunday, has a total of 45 points in his career, which began at the Australian Grand Prix in 2000. Before Saturday, he had never qualified higher than fourth, which he achieved just twice.

"Getting the pole here at my home Grand Prix hasn't really dawned on me yet," said Heidfeld, whose rather humble and straight-talking manner contrasts sharply with the overconfident swagger of a number of other top drivers.

"I think it'll sink in later tonight when I get some time off to think about it," he added.

Heidfeld spent years in relative obscurity with Sauber and Jordan battling from the back of the pack for whatever points they could get. Heidfeld's career, nevertheless, seemed headed downhill at the end of last season when he was without a team.

Given a try-out by Williams, Heidfeld made the most out of his chance and out-duelled Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia for the 2005 race seat - a decision Frank Williams kept from Heidfeld until just 30 minutes before presenting the 2005 car in January.

"It was a very tough time for me," Heidfeld said of the tortuous try-out through the winter months.

"I think it was actually a good idea to compare drivers like that, but I did feel it went on for a bit too long. It was hard mentally and physically. I would have liked a decision earlier."

Sometimes called "Quick Nick" in the German media, Heidfeld grew up in nearby Moenchengladbach. Heidfeld has also been friends with Michael Schumacher, from the nearby town of Kerpen.

They both now live in Switzerland and Schumacher was among the first to congratulate Heidfeld.

"It's great," said Schumacher. "He can be really proud of that. He had a superb lap. I'm really happy for him. His performance this year has been first class."

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