The Sauber team has confirmed that Nick Heidfeld will replace Pedro de la Rosa in the Swiss team’s driving line-up with immediate effect.
Having spent the last 24 hours issuing terse “no comment” answers – often a sign that the rumour is in fact true! – to speculation that it could be set to dump the underperforming Spaniard, the team has confirmed that Heidfeld will represent the team at the next round at Singapore, and beyond.
The German’s contract runs “until the end of the season”, the team statement reads, potentially paving the way for the Swiss squad to have a major head start in the development of its 2011 car with Heidfeld’s inside knowledge of the Pirelli F1 tyres being tested in the last few weeks.
Having staged a dramatic tunraround in its performance from the start of the season, Sauber lies just twenty points shy of Williams in the Constructors’ Championship standings, and it will be extremely keen to move up the ladder to secure additional TV revenue for the 2011 season. Currently, the outfit operates on a limited budget with next to no sponsorship, although rumours are also afoot that hefty investment could stem from South America or via a third-party buy-out next year.
“It was a hard decision for me to make and I want to thank Pedro for his professionalism,” team boss Peter Sauber said, when the decision to rehire Heidfeld – who has driven for the Sauber team twice in his 167-race F1 career – was announced.
“By signing Nick we have a driver we know extremely well who will help us to further judge the comparative potential of our car.”
While adding that he was “surprised” to be given the sack by the team, de la Rosa added: “I respect [the decision] and would like to wish everyone good luck for the remainder of the season. I still intend to be in Formula One for 2011.”
De la Rosa might find his prospects particularly limited, with available drives for the 2011 season fast filling up. His generally undistinguished return season won’t have done him any favours either.
As for Heidfeld’s role as Pirelli’s tyres tester? Well, it would seem that de la Rosa would prove the most suitable candidate, as he comes armed with seven years of testing knowledge from his days at McLaren.
However, the Italian tyre company is not dismissing Heidfeld’s contribution entirely, with the group releasing its own statement indicating that it would like to continue using the services of the 33-year-old German – a move no doubt that the other eleven teams on the grid would vigorously oppose given the advantage this would bestow to Sauber’s 2011 campaign.
“Nick is testing with us at Jerez this week and after that we’ll sit down with him and discuss the possibilities,” a Pirelli spokesperson told GPUpdate.net.
“The plan is to hold on to him, if possible, but obviously we need to see if there’s a logistical solution there.”
The spokesperson added that it was too early to consider a potential replacement for the former Mercedes GP test driver, and stressed that the decision would be made after the upcoming Spanish test.