TeamsAll Hail Heidfeld! By Jeremy McMullen
While all eyes have been on the renewed battle between Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, there is another team quietly pushing ever closer toward achieving victory. At Australia, a white and blue car snagged the fourth spot without attracting too much attention. At the Malaysian grand prix there appeared the same white and blue car crossing the line in front of the second Ferrari of Massa with its driver waving his hands frantically. No, the driver of the white and blue car was not lapped traffic motioning a 'Well done' to Massa. The car in question actually came home ahead of the Ferrari for fourth place. Then, in Bahrain, the same car again came home in fourth but this time ahead of world champion Alonso in his McLaren-Mercedes. Behind all the hoop-lah of Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, behind all the excitement due to Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, and Raikkonen, there is another sneaking up to snatch victory away. Behold, Nick Heidfeld and BMW-Sauber.
BMW-Sauber, while in their first year as partners, finished fifth in the world championship last year. Going into this year there was much anticipation, but also, reasonable apprehension. The team believed they would be able to challenge for high scoring positions. The goal at the beginning of the year was to finish third in the constructor's championship. But it's safe to say the bar needs to be raised even higher. After the re-emergence of McLaren-Mercedes' pace and Ferrari's continual running up front many people throughout the paddock believed the first four places were a virtual lock. However, Heidfeld has proven that theory to be wrong, as well as, proven BMW-Sauber to be better than many anticipated. Some are so surprised that the team's sportsmanship has come into question.
After the first race in Australia, it was believed BMW-Sauber ran a light fuel load in an effort to get up front and virtually hold off potentially quicker cars to enable the team and Heidfeld to come home with a fourth place result. However, after three straight fourth place finishes, and stints between pit stops longer than those of Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, BMW-Sauber has proven their pace to be a reality.
Heidfeld came home in a rather quiet fourth place at the Australian Grand Prix only because of the sheer dominance of Kimi Raikonnen and his Ferrari. After the fourth place at the Malaysian grand prix eyes have come to be more focused on BMW-Sauber. People throughout the paddock have come to wonder how good the team really is. Some of the questions leveled against BMW-Sauber's speed and sportsmanship are no doubt due to Nick's apparent fall from grace throughout F1. The once touted future star has seemed to fizzle in many eyes. But now, after another impressive fourth place in Bahrain, which saw Heidfeld hold off the double world champion Alonso, people have now come to wonder, 'How good could the team become?'
Amazingly, while just as the F1.07 chassis continues to impress, so too does Heidfeld. And while many in the team believed the chassis to be the chariot to take the team closer toward the goal of world champions, such high opinions of Heidfeld have waned in the last few years. Much of the team's hopes have been placed upon Heidfeld's teammate Robert Kubica. And yet, Heidfeld has upstaged his teammate at every race so far.
In contrast to Kubica, many people around F1 believed Nick Heidfeld's career was on the downswing. Written off the last few years, Nick Heidfeld has re-emerged as a good, consistent, and fast driver. BMW-Sauber hoped Heidfeld would at least turn out to be a good platform driver to enable the team to prepare for a serious title push in the near future. What they have instead is a driver contending for the team's first win and the team's leading contender for the championship push the team plans for 2008 and 2009.
As the season returns for the swing through Europe, many more eyes have to be on BMW-Sauber and Heidfeld, but not with so much apprehension. By no means has this season become a forgone conclusion. Up to this point Heidfeld has proven to be able to be close enough to the four top drivers to take away valuable points when the opportunity presents itself. This is the German's last year of his contract with BMW-Sauber and his performances so far this year may present him with another opportunity to prove himself. And while Heidfeld may not challenge for the driver's championship this year, the question remains as to what he could do, as well as, where he could end up.