x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

What could have been for Heidfeld

If things had gone differently this season, Nick Heidfeld might well have been leading the world championship.

Nick Heidfeld is still in love with Formula One despite rumours that he is to be axed from the BMW Sauber team.
Nick Heidfeld is still in love with Formula One despite rumours that he is to be axed from the BMW Sauber team.

If things had gone differently this season, Nick Heidfeld might well have been leading the world championship. The BMW Sauber driver held talks with the then Honda team over the winter about a possible deal to move across the grid to join the Japanese manufacturer. However, he opted against agreeing terms with the team, instead believing that BMW Sauber, who had pledged to be serious championship contenders in 2009, were the better bet. When Honda announced they were pulling the plug on their Formula One operation, Heidfeld was mightily relieved at "having made the right call" but, since the team's rebirth as Brawn GP, no one has got close to them. "It's sort of funny for me looking at it," he said. "I was in talks with the team and, when Honda pulled out, it made me realise I'd made the right choice. But then I look at what Jenson Button's doing this season and I can't help but kick myself. "Perhaps that's not helpful to think like that but it's human nature to give it a little thought. But I've not thought about it too much. "I've moved on, and anyway I'm sure the team were talking to lots of other drivers, and not just me." While Button and Brawn have been flying around virtually every track on the Formula One circuit - with the exception of the last round on the calendar, the British Grand Prix - Heidfeld's BMW have been surprisingly off the pace despite talking themselves up as championship contenders in 2009. The German lies 12th in the world championship with a meagre six points and behind fellow struggler Lewis Hamilton, the world champion. Heidfeld watched at the weekend as Hamilton stumbled around Silverstone in front of his home crowd and the German is well aware he could face the same outcome at his home grand prix at the Nurburgring on Sunday. "We've met out targets every year and so I've got used to the team always doing what it's said," he said. "This year the target was to be fight for the world championship and we're absolutely nowhere in that. "Yeah, I'm surprised about how poorly we've done - not blown away by surprise as there are always surprises around the corner in Formula One. But we've really struggled and it's not always been fun, that's for sure." There is mounting speculation that Heidfeld will lose his place at the team. BMW are rumoured to be keeping Robert Kubica at the team but bringing in a new face as the second driver at Heidfeld's expense. But Heidfeld, 32, the veteran of more than 150 grands prix since his Formula One debut back in 2000, is undeterred by the speculation. "The team say they aren't making any decisions until September so there's not much more I can say," he said. "I hope to stay - we'll see. Formula One rumours happen all the time. You hear about them, shrug your shoulders and say 'so what?' I've read and heard enough untrue ones to not be worried. Whether the rumours are true or not, Heidfeld - much like the pre-2009 Button - has been one of Formula One's nearly men. He has yet to celebrate a race victory despite 12 podium finishes in his career. He can take some encouragement for Sunday's race with the fact the only pole position of his career came at the Nurburgring in 2005 when he drove for Williams. However, Button's turnaround in fortunes has inspired Heidfeld, who believes the world championship is still within his capabilities. "I'm sure every driver on the grid thinks they can be world champion," he said, "and I'm no different. That's why I'm here and I honestly believe I will win the world title if given the right car." This year could yet prove a positive one for Heidfeld, who looks set to marry his long-term partner Patricia, the mother of his two young children, before the end of 2009. The couple got engaged last year and Heidfeld sheepishly admitted they still have not sorted out a date. "I know it's bad as we've been engaged for more than a year and, in Germany, you're meant to get married within a year of getting engaged - but we've been so busy," he said. "I'd love to get married on the beach or by a lake or something with the children alongside us. We've seen some venues but I'm not giving anything away. A keen art lover, with a penchant for graffiti works, Heidfeld has no shortage of passions off the track aside from his family life. He is accustomed to spending five-figure sums on artworks. But his overriding passion is still the four-wheeled variety. Asked if Formula One ever gets boring, he looks genuinely stunned. "Never," he said. "Even when you've done 50,000 laps you still love it. It's different every time and you can never let your mind wander. "Ok, maybe the odd thought might pop into your head for a second or do that's not to do with racing but you get rid of it straight away as you've got a job to do. "Being at the wheel of a race car is where I want to be and where I want to win." That so far elusive target is unlikely to be realised in front of his home crowd on Sunday, but Heidfeld remains undeterred about staying driven.

mmajendie@thenational.ae