Nick Heidfeld is one of the most consistent and talented F1 drivers of this generation and has the dubious record of having the most number of starts without winning a race. The German driver was part of the West McLaren young driver’s program and was also backed by the motorsport division of Mercedes Benz and was also the official test driver for the McLaren team during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. He also won the International Formula 3000 in 1999 which was the precursor to the current GP2 series.
For the 2000 season, he signed up with Prost GP and had a miserable season and he was with an unresponsive and uncompetitive car which more or less did not even last a race distance. He had 10 retirements out of 17 races and failed to score any points at all. During 2001 he signed up with Sauber and future World Champion Kimi Räikkönen was his rookie teammate. Though Heidfeld was very impressive and outperformed Kimi, the vacant McLaren seat which was created due to Mika Häkkinen’s retirement but Kimi took the seat and Heidfeld continued in Sauber for 2 more seasons with decent consistent performances.
A move to the ailing Jordan team in 2004 did him no good and after an average season with the team he was finally signed by a big team as he raced for the Williams F1 team during the 2005 season. Though he was impressive during the first half of the season, his form tapered away towards the end and also the BMW’s partnership with Williams came to an end and Heidfeld moved to the newly formed BMW Sauber team after BMW took over the Swiss team. Though BMW did not have any lofty ambitions during its first 2 seasons, Heidfeld was very consistent and was defiantly the best driver on the grid not driving a Ferrari, McLaren and Renault during this phase. Heidfeld even managed to break the most consecutive classified finishes record with 41 straight finishes which started with the 2007 French GP and ended with the 2009 Italian GP.
Though he has outperformed Kubica his teammate for 3 years in 2 out of the 3 seasons together in BMW, Kubica had a golden 2008 as till he final few races he was in contention for the driver’s title while the team actually led the constructor’s championship for a short bit and also scored its only win with Kubica winning 2008 Canadian GP with Heidfeld following him in 2nd. Things were finally looking good for Heidfeld as he was in a team which can actually challenge for the titles but 2009 was disastrous for the BMW team as due to variety of reasons, the team pulled off its F1 program and Sauber was once again an independent team.
The takeover of Brawn GP by Mercedes brought back Heidfeld into the limelight once again as due to his smooth driving style and his nationality there was talk of him partnering fellow German Nico Rosberg in an all German superteam but Heidfeld’s lack of race win along with Rosberg’s own failure to win a race so far in his career is not helping Heidfeld’s chance with Mercedes GP. He was briefly linked to a race seat with McLaren but Button’s shocking move there has removed any chances with McLaren.
Though there are still seats vacant in the grid, Heidfeld has to wait not only on Schumacher’s comeback decision but also has to wait if Kubica would turn his back on Renault as these two are the hot favourites to take the vacant Mercedes seat. If Schumacher does make a comeback, Heidfeld can re-forge his partnership with Kubica for Renault or he can go back to his old team of Sauber which will be powered by a customer Ferrari engine but time is running out for Heidfeld.
He has always been at the right place at the wrong time and if he fails to land a Mercedes GP seat, chances of Heidfeld finishing his career without a win is very high and he will have the dubious distinction of having score more points and races without a win. An unwanted record for a driver like Heidfeld, who will always be known as a very smooth operator but unless he gets a car which can win him races, we will never know if Heidfeld could have been a F1 great or just another talented youngster who failed in the big stage.