As the 2010 F1 draws ever nearer and with the driver line-ups of many teams having been shuffled on a scale not seen for several seasons, the season will see plenty of talented drivers on the sidelines without a race drive. Such is the nature of Formula 1.
Nick Heidfeld, in particular, is such a victim of the swings and arrows doing the rounds. The German, a veteran of 167 Grands Prix, is still yet to be signed on any team’s roster in spite of a solid 2009 season where he out-scored his team-mate Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber.
What might be the reasons for this?
Heidfeld’s problem is that of perception. He remained the most experienced driver in the 2009 field without a race victory to his name – with his CV and the race-winning equipment he has had, one would expect him to have won races by now. But there remains this ever-occurring muttering in F1 circles that Nick is dependable No. 2 but lacks the drive to push for wins when they have been on the cards. The results would perhaps tend to support that.
Nick remains a largely anonymous, ‘under-the-radar’ figure on the F1 grid. Dependable and solid, and for much of 2009 he was able to extract more from the dreadful F1.09 he was saddled with last year that Kubica, yet somehow, it still doesn’t seem to be enough.
The doors to available drives are rapidly closing. First, the appointment of Michael Schumacher to partner Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. Now, Pedro de la Rosa has ventured to Sauber; most felt it would have been logical to keep at least one driver from the BMW Sauber era during the team’s transition – de la Rosa is hardly a better calibre driver than Nick.
Heidfeld, himself, has acknowledged the uphill battle he is now facing. Writing on his website, he said: "My current job situation [has] not let go of me, even after Michael Schumacher’s [appointment was announced]. This decision affects me directly because it means there is a less space [available on the grid] for next year. I am not naive when I say a lot of unexpected things can happen in Formula 1. Now we have to look forward and focus on the best long-term option for my future in Formula 1. I will continue to train hard, conduct talks with the appropriate people and to challenge my chance with all my might."
Nick’s only available options would be either to team up with Kubica for a fifth season, this time at Renault. Or there are still the vacancies at USF1 and Campos – USF1 boss Peter Windsor is known to be a fan, and soundly praised the German’s abilities.
One hopes that someone, somewhere, will offer Nick a seat. His talent deserves better than this. But he needs to prove that he is worth another tilt at a top-flight team.