Q & A with Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld is lighter, fitter and more confident in his new car ahead of the season, than he was this time last year. He will also be the only BMW driver using the team's Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) in Australia this weekend

Q & A with Nick Heidfeld

AUTOSPORT was there to hear what the German had to say as he discussed his views on the 2009 pecking order, the new regulations and whether or not his driving style suits the new breed of cars and tyres.

Q. How has your winter been?

Nick Heidfeld: It has been a good winter, I was able to work out a lot because there were less tests. I was not ill, which is good because last year I was a bit unlucky with being ill. This year I have lost some weight, like most of the other guys I think. I did a lot of work to lose 3.5kg.

I had good testing and I think up until now everything has gone smoothly. I think we made good use of the track time available. We are probably one of the teams with the most mileage, but this still feels like it should have been more. We were lucky when we had our roll-out in Valencia. A lot of the other teams were in Portimao and couldn't drive [because of poor weather]. That's where we gained an advantage in terms of mileage, but still we had a couple of small issues. This meant we didn't get the chance to do all the laps we would have liked and of course that is a lot more important this year because there are less tests and from now on there will be no testing anymore. In comparison to the others, what we've achieved is probably good but it could have been better.

Q. Are you at a place now where you can challenge for the world championship going into Australia?

NH: I hope so yes, but we clearly don't know. Each year I don't set myself a target like 'I want to be world champion this year'. Of course I want to be world champion one day, but first we have to see how strong our car is. My target is always to perform at the maximum of the car, in both qualifying and the race conditions. And of course then I'm either happy or not with first or tenth position. It can be both.

Q. The test analysis suggests that Brawn is ahead, and then it is Toyota and BMW...

NH: It is very difficult to say something about where you stand and where the others stand. I will try anyway, but leaving our team aside. I think Brawn is clearly ahead, followed by a second group that is led by Ferrari, Toyota, Red Bull and possibly Renault - but I cannot judge them that well. And then there is a bit of a gap to Williams and McLaren, Toro Rosso I cannot really judge, it didn't do so much mileage but the car looks similar to the Red Bull, so let's see. And then at the back is Force India. I guess that we would be somewhere in the second group.

Q. Have you had to change your driving style for the new cars?

NH: It has changed a bit, but I think the slick tyres are more natural for my driving style. So far it was not so much work as it was last year. I have a feeling that I am lot further along in terms of being suited to the car and the tyres than I was a year ago.

Q. How different does the car feel compared to last year?

NH: Not as much as I expected honestly. You would think that with the slicks, in the slow speed corners you are massively quicker and in the high speed corners you are massively slower - because of the downforce - but that is not really what you feel. The car feels similar in terms of speed, the balance and feeling is different, although you do gain a bit in the low speed stuff. In some high speed corners it still feels very quick. So obviously the target of reducing the downforce by 50 per cent was not achieved. You have already seen in testing that the lap times are similar to last year.

Q. Have your braking points changed, and will there be more overtaking?

NH: The braking initially with our 'B' car was one of the biggest issues, and from what I have seen from comments of other teams and drivers it was the same for them. But until now we have improved that by a big step. Braking points are very slightly earlier but nothing that would have an effect on overtaking. What hopefully will have an effect is the fact that obviously you can follow a car more closely, which added to that fact that we have KERS (which not all cars have), that maybe an advantage. When everybody runs KERS it will be no different, but I will run KERS and Robert will not.

The front wing changes will also help you to follow a car closely. It should have an effect but it will not be easy, as I have seen in testing. You can get closer, and closer, and closer but then you don't pass.

Q. Where will KERS be the most advantage for you?

NH: Well first of all I don't think it will be at this circuit, I think there are other circuits where it will help more. Obviously Monza for example. Malaysia should also be better than here, where it is not that straight forward. And then yes the start could be an advantage, although not so much here because the distance to the first corner is pretty short. And then we hope that it will help in a mid-race fight, but this we will only find out.

Q. Is it a weight reason as to why you are running KERS and Robert isn't?

NH: Yes. Obviously Robert is a lot heavier, I lost some weight over the winter. We both tried to take the best option and it shows that there is not a huge difference if I choose it and he doesn't.

Q. Do you think it is fair with the weight issue or do you think it is something that needs to be addressed?

NH: It is fair that we can decide. Of course it is not fair that drivers are penalised for being heavier. I happily take the advantage of course.

Q. Looking at the telemetry is there a visible advantage through weight over Robert?

NH: Not really. You cannot see it so clearly on the data and also I don't want to go into detail there, but when you have KERS on board, obviously it is very easy to see the difference in speed, but there are also a couple of disadvantages you have with KERS. The centre or gravity is quite a bit higher and the weight distribution is worse and there is a higher chance of having technical problems - especially early in the season. It is a challenge to have it working perfectly under braking conditions, and set-up is pretty new and unknown. So there are downsides to weigh up against the positives and that is also why Robert isn't using it and probably all the other teams that are not. It's not straightforward that if you use KERS you will be quicker.

Q. The pace of the Brawn will probably depend on the diffuser they are allowed to use and that could put you in a prime spot.

NH: I don't know if it would put us in a prime spot, but I think it could be a season-decider if they are allowed to use the diffuser or not. Because after speaking to some of the guys from our team and also other teams, I didn't know this before but they really believe that the advantage they have is huge. Speaking in Formula 1 standards it is more than half a second and that is a world in this sport. That is what people believe and it could be a deciding factor for the whole season.

Q. Is your team working on a concept?

NH: I cannot tell you.

Q. So today could be the most important day of the world championship?

NH: I don't know if it is today, I don't know when the protest can be launched, but yes the decision will be vital.

Q. Ultimately is this bad for F1?

NH: Yes and no. It is normal in all sports to have [new] regulations, this just happens, but I think it is not nice to change rules one week before the start of the season when it could have been done a while ago, because it damages the good press and the positives that were in the media before. With Brawn coming up, with people saying there could be a new pecking order in the new season, everybody was very excited. Then suddenly you have the new points system, and all this stuff coming up that I think was not necessary. But I think it is necessary to clarify the rules, and although it would be better if it didn't happen it always will. People will always try to use the rules to the max.

Q. Do you think the controversies over the points system and now the diffusers can affect the image of F1?

NH: I think the issue with points and they way it was done just before the first race was not clever and then to introduce it, and then nobody liking it, not the fans, not the drivers, not the teams - or just a very small per cent. And then reversing it but saying we will introduce it in 2010, this I think is not nice. But the other thing with the diffusers is just part of the sport.

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