Nick Heidfeld is still hopeful of landing a Formula 1 drive for 2010. Heidfeld admits that his chances took a hit when Michael Schumacher recently announced that he was coming out of retirement to drive for Mercedes GP on a three-year deal. Heidfeld had been the putative Plan B for the Brackley-based squad should they have been unable to secure the services of the seven-time uber-champ.
On his official website, Heidfeld put a good face on the matter, and said the politic thing: “This is certainly a great thing for Formula 1 and I wish good luck to Michael and Mercedes.”
However, he also acknowledged that the return of Schumi would impact his own career options. “This decision affects me directly because it means there is a relevant less space for next year,” he said. “I am not naive when I say, especially after the past few weeks, a lot of unexpected things can happen in Formula 1.”
It has also been suggested that a return to his former team, Sauber, might be on the cards for Heidfeld, but recent reports have suggested that Pedro de la Rosa might have the inside track to landing Sabuer’s vacancy. Peter Sauber has already confirmed Japanese pilot Kamui Kobayashi as one of his drivers next year.
It’s also been suggested that Heidfeld might follow his former BMW partner Robert Kubica to Renault, which beginning next year will be under management of the Luxembourg-based Genii Captial. The new management team at Genii/Renault, however, have been slow to drop any hints regarding their short list for their second seat.
Barring the Renault or Sauber options, Heidfeld’s opportunities would be limited. The only other vacancies on the grid currently are at Toro Rosso (Jaime Alguersuari has yet to be confirmed for the second seat), Campos (who thus far have confirmed only Bruno Senna) and USF1 (who have yet to make any announcements regarding their driver lineup).
Another possibility mentioned by paddock prognosticators is the reserve driver slot at Mercedes GP. Given that in-season testing is now banned, however (with the old “test driver” title having been replaced by the “reserve” nomenclature), this position is virtually a job without a function. A reserve driver is like an stage actor’s understudy: he spends most of his time lingering in the pit lane, waiting for some malady to befall one of the primary drivers, so he act as substitute. The unfortunate result, as was seen when Luca Badoer attempted to fill in for the mending Felipe Massa in 2009, is that the reserve driver can lose his edge.
That being the case, if Heidfeld is unable to secure a slot at one of the second-tier teams (i.e. Renault or Sauber) for 2010, one suspects his best career move might be a switch to another formula, such as the German DTM series, or the American ALMS. A number of former F1 pilots have extended their careers in these series. Examples: Jean Alesi, Mika Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher and Heinz-Herald Frentzen have all spent time in the DTM; and J.J. Lehto, Jan Magnussen, Allan McNish and Mika Salo have all driven in the ALMS.