Fill a stein with your best German beer in honour of former Grand Prix driver Nick Heidfeld, who will today be celebrating his 35th birthday.
Hailing from the same town as fellow F1 driver (and former team-mate) Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Heidfeld’s 183-race career is among the longest winless runs in Formula 1 of any driver in the sport’s history.
After winning the 1999 Formula 3000 crown in the McLaren junior team, Heidfeld signed with the Prost team for the 2000 Formula 1 season. It was a tough season in a truly awful car, but he performed well against team-mate Jean Alesi – despite the pair embarrassingly colliding at the Austrian Grand Prix – and signed with the Sauber team for the 2001 season.
It was there that he began to blossom, finishing in the points first time out at Australia and backing this up with a podium finish at Brazil, the team’s first top-three finish since the 1998 season.
While he wouldn’t visit the dais for a long while after, he remained with the Swiss team for a further two seasons before securing a late lifeline with the Jordan team for the 2004 season. Despite the team’s lack of funding and development, Heidfeld impressed and often took the car to finishing results it patently didn’t deserve.
His performances were enough to impress Williams and – with a little encouragement from engine supplier BMW – he joined the team in 2005. He claimed his only pole position on home soil at the Nurburgring and earned three further podium finishes, with his drives at Malaysia and Monaco being particularly impressive.
BMW parted ways with Williams at the end of the year and so Heidfeld followed them to Sauber, where the team became known as BMW Sauber in deference to their new investor.
After soundly thrashing his team-mate Jacques Villeneuve for the first half of the 2006 season, he found himself put in the shade with the arrival of new team-mate Robert Kubica, who quickly became the apple of the team’s eye with some sparkling performances of his own.
Nick would have dearly loved to give the team its (and his) first win, but Kubica took that honour at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix, while Heidfeld – who finished second after being asked not to impede his two-stopping team-mate – sulked on the podium.
That effectively cast Nick as F1’s perpetual bridesmaid, and despite one and two-bit-seasons more in the sport, he would never demonstrate that winning potential which many felt he possessed all those years before.
He stayed with Sauber until the end of 2009 before he was dropped when BMW split with the team, but returned for the Swiss squad in late 2010 as the replacement for the underwhelming Pedro de la Rosa. Many felt the team’s driver swap to be curious, and Heidfeld performed little better than the man he landed up replacing.
Nonetheless, he happened to be in the right place at the right time to be give one last lifeline when Robert Kubica suffered his horrific rallying injuries at the start of 2011, and was awarded the Pole’s seat at Lotus Renault GP for the season.
Despite earning a podium finish second time out at Malaysia, his form progressively slid along with the complicated car’s competitiveness, and Heidfeld was (unfairly, many felt) given the boot before the end of the year in place of Bruno Senna.
With the curtain finally brought down on his F1 career, Nick turned to endurance racing, where he now competes for Rebellion Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.