Nick Heidfeld is being given a hard time by the world’s press at the moment, perhaps more so than Lewis Hamilton.
The latest rumours doing the rounds in the F1 paddock suggest that the German could be ousted by BMW Sauber by the end of the year. GP2 star Bruno Senna is the latest driver to be linked to the seat and before that double world champion Fernando Alonso was in the frame.
Much of the speculation centres on Heidfeld’s below par start to the 2008 campaign. The German has been consistently out-shone by team-mate Robert Kubica who has been relishing every minute behind the wheel of his traction control-less F1.08.
Heidfeld conversely has been having a torrid time with the handling of BMW’s 2008 challenger, particularly in qualifying where he has been struggling to heat up his Bridgestone Potenzas.
If it is true that BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen is genuinely thinking about replacing his fellow countryman for – or even before – 2009, then he would be wise to think twice.
At 31 years old, Heidfeld is no spring chicken, though Schumacher, Hakkinen and Hill have all won championships at a later age. But the problem with the mumblings that Heidfeld is past his prime is the sheer contrast in performance and results between this year and last.
Heidfeld out-qualified Kubica 12-4 last year and was consistently out-racing the Pole en-route to total of 61 points and two podiums. But Kubica has come alive in 2008, flipping the statistics 8-0 to his favour and qualifying on average, five places ahead of his team-mate at each race. Heidfeld has not only struggled to keep Kubica touch, but also dropped behind the likes of Alonso, Webber, Trulli and Rosberg on the starting grid.
Had Heidfeld’s dip in performance been less sharp, there might be some substance to the argument that he his no longer at his prime. But the stark contrast between 2007 and 2008 suggests that there is something more fundamental at play, and that Heidfeld’s problems with the tyres should be taken at face value.
Encouragingly for Heidfeld, he has begun to turn things around. In Magny-Cours he lapped within a tenth of a second of Kubica in Q2 and was confident that the team had begun to get on top of the tyre warming issues that had plagued his lack-lustre season.
“I hope that it will at least continue like in Magny-Cours when I was 0.060 seconds slower than Robert in Q2 which was acceptable,” he said at the end of this week’s three-day test at Silverstone. “It was of course not my target, but at least better than the last couple of races.”
It would be foolish to sacrifice the experience that Heidfeld brings to the team just he is beginning to help resolve and unmask an issue with the F1.08 that could equally hamper other drivers that have a similar driving style.
Give him time to overcome the problems that he has been having with this year’s car before replacing him with a rookie, Mario.