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Heidfeld hoping for second chance as he lands Pirelli test deal
Heidfeld hoping for second chance as he lands Pirelli test deal
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Aug 2010   |  1:47 pm GMT  |  138 comments

Nick Heidfeld has accepted the role of test and development driver for Pirelli tyres, hoping that having a head start in understanding the tyre will make him an attractive proposition to an F1 team as a race driver for 2011.

The 33 year old German has been a rather forlorn looking reserve driver for Mercedes this season. With no on track testing allowed during the season, his role has been largely on the simulator and behind the scenes at the factory and the race track.

The Pirelli opportunity involves him driving the 2009 Toyota car, not the car which was designed and built for 2010 but never raced after the Japanese giant pulled out. The test programme, due to start straight away, will be extensive and will help Pirelli develop casings and a set of four tyre compounds for its return to the sport in 2011. After an absence of almost 20 years, the company plans to take a conservative approach and Heidfeld’s experience will come in very useful in finding the right compounds.

Toyota are running the car, with mechanics and engineers still employed at the old factory in Cologne. In total there will be 18 Toyota staff at the test in Mugello, where the car is running white and without logos. Toyota engineers are under contractual obligation not to share any Bridgestone technical data with the Pirelli engineers.

“We have a policy of complete impartiality, so we did not want to favour any existing team,” said Pirelli competition boss Paul Hembery. “The Toyota was the perfect solution, as it is a contemporary racing machine with proven speed and reliability but without links to any of the manufacturers currently competing in Formula One.”

As we have seen this year with Michael Schumacher’s problems at Mercedes, understanding how to get the best from the tyres is a vital part of being fast and this will be especially true on what will otherwise be a level playing field with unknown tyres next season.

That said, Heidfeld struggled with front tyre warm up in his BMW Sauber days, compared with Robert Kubica so his style of driving, gentle on the tyres, will need to be taken into account by the Pirelli engineers.

Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug said, “It would be great to see Nick in a competitive
car in next year’s Formula One World Championship and I am sure his leading role in the new tyre development, in addition to his skills, puts Nick in a good position for the remaining seats in 2011.”

Heidfeld was a Mercedes young driver and thought he was on a fast track to a McLaren seat in the early 2000s, but Mercedes and McLaren took Kimi Raikkonen instead. Heidfeld then went to BMW, but came back to Mercedes in the reserve driver role this year. It will be interesting to see whether one of the Mercedes engined teams takes him next year or whether another forward thinking team decides to give him a run.

Sauber ran him during two separate stints and in the most recent one were not pleased when he suddenly speeded up by four tenths of a second per lap when the replaced Jacques Villeneuve with Robert Kubica in 2006. Peter Sauber felt that he should have been putting everything on the table all the time.

But if testing remains very limited next season, then having Heidfeld’s experience, even for one season, would be vastly preferable to running a rookie, so you may see him get a second chance.

He’s strong on engineering and his performances alongside Kubica showed that if the car is set up to his liking he can be very fast. The problem was that he and Kubica wanted quite different things from a car.

“The team has always said that they would not stand in my way if such a chance arose and they have kindly allowed me to take up this exciting new role,” said Heidfeld.

Pirelli has also taken the smart move of hiring the hugely experienced Peter Grzelinski and James Gresham to manage the tyre logistics. They have been responsible for this role with Bridgestone throughout their time in F1, stretching back to 1997 and have forgotten more about moving tyres around the world and getting them serviced properly at race tracks than most people have ever learned.

Mercedes has released Heidfeld from his contract and say they will not rush to appoint a new reserve driver. But they will need someone to cover them in Spa in two weeks. Perhaps Mercedes DTM driver Paul di Resta, who is contracted to Force India and has recent F1 experience, can be on standby, otherwise they may go with someone like Jamie Green, who is also a front line star in DTM and who has long deserved a chance in F1.

But I guess with Mercedes being an all German team, they may also be thinking of a German reserve driver.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

you guys all say he beat massa, raikonnen, webber….. but look at when he beat them and by how much. He beat massa in his massa’s first season by a margin of 7-4 and raikonnen in raikonnen’s first season by a margin of 12-9. Is that something to really brag about when each of them won on to have greater careeers than heidfeld could have ever dreamt of?

As for kubica, you have to be shitting me that he was the one that bmw favored, when heidfeld was the german racing at the german outfit, when the popular german, schumacher, had left the sport. He was the number one driver most of the time at bmw, and only when everyone found out hes shit, even with a good car, did he lose that spot


I think Heidfeld is the most underrated driver around, and I think the Pirelli-job will give him one more chance on the grid next year.

He will replace Toni Liuzzi.


can`t belieive some peoples answered “no“ to that question


One thought occurred while discussing this with a friend:

It is generally reckoned that Button and Heidfeld have similar approaches, are easy on the tyres but can suffer when trying to get them up to temperature.

What are the chances that 2011 will be a really good season for Button, given the tyres are much more likely to suit his style?


I personally think that Mercedes pushed Heidfeld towards the Pirelli test driver role. Schumacher is struggling with the Mercedes this season, and has gone on record stating that he doesn’t have an aggressive enough front-end, largely due to the nature of the front tyres.

It would not surprise me, considering the history of Schumacher/Brawn’s forward and creative thinking, that they pushed Heidfeld towards the role, with some “suggestions”, shall we say, of what they would like from the tyres for next season.

I am convinced that Schumacher will be far more of a force to be reckoned with in 2011…


I would agree but for the difference in driving styles between Nick and Michael. Surely it’s a bit unrealistic to expect a driver to try to drive like someone else, even with today’s simulators and technology.

And I don’t really see how it would benefit Nick to create tyres that suit another driver…


BTW James,

I was thinking you would also be on a well deserved vacation.. (too much to ask?) 🙂


I think Nick is goign to be highly sought after by a few teams.. maybe Renault? that will something Nick will hate .. LOL


Wow, nearly an hour after I started reading and replying to this thread (James, I really wish I still had the time to contribute more often but you’re clearly and deservedly burgeoning without anything I can add), I’m surprised nobody seems to have commented on driving styles.

Heidfeld is rightly or wrongly regarded as having a particular tyre need. As I see it, the only evidence we truly have is his need is different to Kubica’s. In other circumstances, including Kubica previously, Heidfeld has been there or thereabouts.

Sauber’s comments about the comparison with Villeneuve, while doubtlessly believed, must surely be considered against both JV being an idiosyncratic (and possibly disruptive) talent and the fact he was fired! And, perhaps, that Heidfeld is not a strong enough personality to mould or lead a team.

Anyway, the point is that whoever tests the new breed of tyre will have a preferred style and whether that suits, for want of a better analogy, the Senna/Hamilton or Prost/Button approach is largely irrelevant. It is simply part of the wonderful ying and yang of F1 and it will be for the affected generation to make the best of it, just as it has had in the past to deal with changing engines (1.5 to 3 litres anyone, then 3 litres to 1.5 litre turbos??), aerodynamics, fueling and other tyre-related changes. It’s why eras cannot sensibly be compared – although the older I get, the more I wish the latter eras were more easily identifiable!


Good point. Thanks for your input.


“As we have seen this year with Michael Schumacher’s problems at Mercedes, understanding how to get the best from the tyres is a vital part of being fast”

“That said, Heidfeld struggled with front tyre warm up in his BMW Sauber days”

Same problem?

Heidfeld was a Mercedes young driver…It will be interesting to see whether one of the Mercedes engined teams takes him next year…”

Could Mercedes GP rehire him?


Mmh, what are the other teams thinking about this?

Did not Bridgestone develop their tires to the liking of the Brawn-led Ferrari team with Schumacher as the driver, so that the other teams decide to go for Michelin instead?

And now a former test driver of Brawn-led Mercedes team with Schumacher as a driver is helping to develop the new F1 tires.

Heidfeld has strong ties to the brand, he clearly will not be seen as impartial, even if he tries to be exactly that.

What happens if MS finds the new tires much more to his liking, surely this will cause some bad blood among the teams…


I’ve always felt that Nick was massively under-rated.

He was faster than Raikkonen in 2001 at Sauber, Faster than Massa in 2002, Pretty well matched with Frentzen in 2003 & pulled out some good runs in the uncompetitive Jordan in 2004.

In 2005 most were expected Webber to easily beat him at Williams yet Heidfeld was more often than not the faster & likely would have ended ahead of Mark in points had he not missed the final races due to the injury.

At BMW he was well matched against Villeneuve & Kubica & may well have won the 2008 Canadian GP had he not had to allow Kubica pass (Something he said on the BBC earlier this year that he regrets doing).


James, Loving the website, my first port of call when surfing for f1 news. If only you could get the job of second commentator at the beeb. Anyway a bit off topic but was wondering wether a copy of the stunning photo heading your home page is avaiable? Of all the colour schemes of the current f1 cars the redbull isnt my favorite, but looking at that photo i find it hard to imagine any of the others looking better, with the exception of i think maybe darren heaths shot of a mclaren at abu dhabi last year. Cheers


It’s a Darren Heath image, I believe from Hungary. Go to


So James, which teams are likely candidates for Heidfeld to be going to given that the top teams are locked out and Sauber won’t want him again? Replacement for Trulli at Lotus? Petrov replacement at Renault maybe? Or Liuzzi at Force India?


Don’t see any of those, to be honest – possibly Force India, but Di Resta may have a chance there. Would be a coup for Virgin, maybe?


I can’t think of Heidfeld without thinking of when he took out the medical car at Intelagos 2002…


Thought I read somewhere that as a condition of being the Pirelli test driver, Heidfeld wouldn’t be hirable in 2011 (because his in-depth knowledge and influence on the Pirellis would be an unfair advantage for other teams and drivers). Is there any truth to this?


There would have been no advantage to Nick agreeing to test the Pirellis if he couldn’t race them so I doubt that is the case. He had been quite vocal about getting a drive next year and Mercedes mention that in their press release.

James, who do you think is in line in Mercedes need a reserve driver? I have heard Davidson and Soucek mentioned.


I’m sure NH wouldn’t have done it in those circumstances.


I would suspect that would break employment laws if he wasn’t allowed to look for a drive next year, as you are preventing someone looking for work in they’re line of work, hope that makes sense


I can’t imagine that Nick would have signed up for this test under such conditions.

Also, wouldn’t such a clause not be illegal under European employment laws?


The lack of F1 news over the summer break is killing me!!

Ok so I’m Trying to make a story out of nothing, but won’t Pirelli using last year’s Toyota at Mugello work out very nicely for Ferrari?

Didn’t a lot of Toyota aero guys move to Ferrari when the F1 team closed? So with the new Italian Tires being tested on a Ferrai owned track in a car designed by people working on the 2011 Ferrari could be quite beneficial for the Scarlet team right?

I realise the use of the Toyota car makes a lot of sense given the skeleton team in place to run the car vs. for example the use of the BMW, but to me it seems clear if any team is to benefit from this session it will be Ferrari.

Will any data regarding tire wear, laptimes etc be shared either to FOTA or the general public? Or will it be kept for the Pirelli and the owners of the track as reference data?

If Schumacher or Rosberg got injured in Spa would Quick Nick be allowed to drive now? Would the other teams protest him being involved?

Has Quick Nick actually driven another F1 car with narrow front tyres? Does he provide a worthwhile benchmark?

Quick Nick deserves one last shot in F1, but where? no top drives available does he really want to have to prove himself in a mid field / new team again? Maybe just accept F1 is over for now, sign up long term to Mercedes and become part of the new look DTM in 2012 whilst praying Schumacher gets bored.


Wasn’t JV known for having a fairly unique way of setting up his car? Perhaps with JV gone and Robert being a rookie more of the team set up decisions came Nicks way and he was able to get more from the car?


Good point. But Peter Sauber must have some insight into that, no ?


He looks like a Bee Gee. And that’s good enough for me.


Rubbish … He looks like Ryan Gosling and you should know him from ” The Notebook”


Hi James,

I have a couple of question about the Pirelli tyres for next year and I am not sure where to post it so here it is.

From my original understanding the current tyres have a 13inch rim size while the new Pirelli tyres will be 18inch. Firstly is this correct and if yes how will this affect the cars in 2011 with regards to aerodynamics and brake cooling? Will the guys also be able to run bigger / stronger brakes because of the increase in size or is everybody expecting it to be the same?



That’s not correct. The 18 inch rims were with with Michelin. The Pirellis will be the 13 inch rims like the Bridgestones


Hi James, can you please look into the tyre development further. For example how much of the future development of this tyre will be determined by the results of data compiled by running them on the Toyota chassis?

And if it is quite significant how could that possibly effect teams heading into 2011?

Would engineers and drivers familiar with the characteristics and behaviour of that chassis have a slight advantage?

Of course I could just be bored in the break and trying to create a story in my mind where none exists!!


The results of the current testing will have a very large bearing on the specification of the 2011 tyres, of course. Any familiarity or deeper understanding of the characteristics of the tyres would be a significant advantage, when everyone else is still learning them


Must be Nick’s fourth chance to race as an F1 driver:

1. Sauber

2. Jordan

3. Williams

4. Renault/Force India?

I think he was robbed in Canada 08 and that BMW decided Kubica should be the one winning it from a PR point of view.

He hasn’t set the world of F1 alight but has more often than not outperformed, Raikkonen, Webber and Kubica when using the same machinery. With that in mind, I wouldn’t want to have him as teammate next year.


If Heidfeld had not allowed Kubica through then Kubica would most likely have finished third. First and second is preferable to first and third for any team in most circumstances.


Well said!


Would prefer to see some fresh blood in a semi-competitive car. There are so many young and hungry drivers coming through the ranks that I feel only the stand-out drivers deserve second chances.

Heidfeld has had a solid F1 career, but he isn’t likely to get a car to be a WC contender. There are plenty of other challenges for him in motor-sport.


Never really rated him that highly. Seems to be a Darling of the German Manufacturers. Just didn’t have that killer instinct to be a number 1 driver, he would be a perfect test driver though.


I see him on the same level as Nico Rosberg


Would be a shame they appoint a German reserve driver just because they are German. It seems that formula 1 is the only sport that hires people based on there nationality rather than the best person who could the job.


The quasi-no.2 at McLaren this year is a case in point.

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