Nick Heidfeld: Switching currents

Nick Heidfeld is a seasoned veteran in the world of racing, having spent 11 years in Formula 1 driving for the likes of BMW Sauber, Prost and Jordan. Now the 38-year-old has another welcome challenge in Formula E.

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Along with his current Formula E commitments with Mahindra Racing, the German also competes in the LMP1-L category of the FIA World Endurance Championship with Rebellion Racing.

The Swiss-based racer is one of the 20 drivers that helped Alejandro Agag’s 100 per cent electric single-seater series move a new form of racing into the spotlight back in October 2014. He continues his quest towards picking up victories and titles with the Indian outfit, who he joined just before the start of season two.

He helped Dilbagh Gill’s squad pick up its first-ever Formula E podium in the Mahindra-designed M2Electro at the season opener in Beijing, along with two top-ten finishes at Putrajaya and Buenos Aires. However, surgery on his left hand saw him replaced at the Punta del Este ePrix by a promising young Brit in the form of Oliver Rowland.

I was able to speak with Nick ahead of the race in Mexico, asking him about his decision to move to Mahindra from Venturi, his thoughts on social media and much more.

Firstly, Nick, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. How is your recuperation coming along since getting back into the cockpit in Argentina?

Yes, it’s progressing very well, and I’m very lucky and happy that I made it back so quickly, because all the doctors that I spoke to said that it would be unrealistic to aim for Buenos Aires.

But the recovery has gone really well, yet it still will take a while. The hand will probably never be as good as before, especially in terms of flexibility, but it should hopefully be enough to do everything that I could do before.

Formula E has helped to bring welcome exposure through its use of social media, especially through Twitter. Does this affect how social media helps you personally, as a driver?

For me as a driver, it honestly doesn’t make much difference, because I started using Twitter shortly after I left Formula 1, which was in 2011 I think. I’ve seen that Formula E does a lot more with social media than Formula 1 does, but it’s not like anybody has asked me to do something big.

It’s just about going with the times and doing what you like. I’m currently spending a lot more time on Twitter than I am on Facebook, although I’ve just started doing my Facebook page myself. So, I guess that people are really happy with what I do on Twitter, as Mahindra asked for people to follow and retweet to win a few pairs of sunglasses recently.

I’m really up for doing something like that, and I feel that both Formula E and Mahindra are not pushing anybody to engage in similar stuff. I’m also glad to see people doing it because that’s what’s happening around the world at this time with younger generations.

They’re well-financed, they’re getting larger and becoming even more successful, despite the fact that they are not that well known in Europe.

What were the main factors in your decision to make the switch to Mahindra from Venturi after season one had concluded?

It was not an easy decision to make, because we had quite a few chances with Venturi last season – not only to win one, but several races like many other teams had. But in the end, it never really worked out as there were always some small issues.

Later in the season, when we discussed what was going to happen the following year, I was not fully convinced that they would achieve the targets they had set themselves. The goals and plans that they had in place were correct, but from what I saw happening, I wasn’t sure if it was all going to work.

So from there, it was a pretty late decision to switch teams, as I had originally thought that I would be staying with Venturi for a long time.

Dilbagh Gill, the Team Principal, was one of the first people that I spoke to, and when I talked to him, he analysed very closely why they didn’t perform as well as they thought they would in season one.

He told me where the problems were and what the targets and changes would be, along with what they had already changed. That gave me a lot of trust in him and the decisions that he was taking, so that was why I switched teams. It was great to have good results for myself and the team with the podium in Beijing.

This was despite myself and the team at Mahindra not having everything that we would have liked having, which included trying to develop a good powertrain for season two. The target was to design something even better, but there was not enough time for that.

We all know that in motorsport everyone is pushing hard, so you can never be sure, but this was another reason why I went to Mahindra as a part of the quite detailed mid-to-long-term plan: they’re well-financed, they’re getting larger and becoming even more successful, despite the fact that they are not that well known in Europe.

If you look at it, it’s quite a powerful brand, thus it was really tempting to work with them and so far, it’s been a good trip. I’ve been to India for the very first time after Buenos Aires, and it was interesting to see what they are doing in terms of cars, bicycles, aeroplanes and so on.

A few people have said that they are ‘not interested in Formula E’, but then look at them now.

We now know that Formula E will be racing around the centre of Berlin, after the decision to not run the ePrix at the Tempelhof Airport, which was arranged in such quick time by Formula E and local authorities. I bet you’re looking forward to heading back to home soil?

I love going back to Germany, and especially to Berlin for something like a home ePrix. Last year saw a very successful event and the circuit was nice, but as a racing driver, I like to go to different tracks, so I think that we will be closer to the centre of Berlin, which will be thrilling.

All the races that we have seen so far, with the exception of one or two, have been pretty exciting, as it was almost impossible to know just who would win the race until ten laps before the end.

This year had one team being ahead and having the strongest car, but Formula E has been very exciting so far, and I hope that it will not change in the near future, especially for the spectators. Many of the people that I’ve spoken to who have watched the racing, said they have really enjoyed it.

How much are you looking forward to the race in Mexico and the event itself, and how are the preparations coming along?

I’m really excited to go to Mexico, because I’ve never been there before and it’s great to visit the country and the city, and it will be as interesting, as usual, to go to a new circuit.

However, I’m not a fan of going to a modern Formula 1-style circuit with those cars – I know they will change the layout for the ePrix because if you got to this type of track with Formula E cars, they would both look and feel slow.

If you look at the numbers, we are still a long way from where Formula 1 is, but if we keep going to street circuits and that will prove to be the perfect match because if it looks quick, it normally is.

In terms of preparation, we’ll be using the simulator to get locked in and try to prepare as usual. Of course, my hand is getting better and better, and the last race showed that I was strong enough to compete.

It was great to get back in the car. I did hope that I would be able to drive without thinking about the hand, but it’s normal after such an injury that it takes some time.

Season three sees Jaguar’s return to global motorsport, which shows how much impact Formula E is making in racing. What are your personal thoughts on their decision to make it ten teams racing in season three?

It’s fantastic to have more manufacturers coming in, and I think that it was crucial for Formula E to survive.

I know that many sponsors and manufacturers were watching, and still do, saying that they liked what was going on. This is impressive considering the short space of time in terms of TV viewers, spectators, the circuits and the atmosphere that it creates.

Season one was the crucial period, and I think that this is the reward now, especially for Alejandro and all the people that believed and invested both money and time in the series from very early on.

Apart from this, there are also more drivers that want to join the sport. A few people have said that they are “not interested in Formula E”, but then look at them now. When we got to season two, they were asking how they could join in, and so far, it’s been a huge success.

Paddock Magazine would like to personally thank Nick for his time, as well as the assistance of Mahindra Racing’s PR and Communications Manager Naomi Panter for arranging the interview.

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