NEW KID ON THE GRID

 

A star is born. A new, refreshing face on the way to the top of single-seater motor racing. The fourth German in the Grand Prix business is the fourth Rhinelander, too. He comes from the same hometown as Heinz-Harald Frentzen does - Mönchengladbach in the Western part of the country.

When I heard his voice for the first time in a television interview I became pretty frightened because it really sounds a little bit of that of the late Rolf Stommelen. That had been the tragic hero, who had, once being in the lead of a Grand Prix, this teribble accident at Barcelona-Montjuich 1975 to make four people standing beside the track get killed. Stommelen, whose rear wing of his Embassy Hill Ford had broken, had been taken to hospital with serious leg injuries. Ten years later he had been killed in a sports car event in U.S.-American Riverside, because the rear wing of his Porsche had collapsed...

No, doubt, Nick Heidfeld is already a star. The most successful single-seater racing driver the world has seen during the last five years: Champion in the tough German Formula 3

championship 1997 with the BSR team of Bertram Schäfer, himself once being a F3 champion. Vice champion in Formula 3000 in the year 1998 and International Formula 3000 Champion in 1999, both with West Competition, how the McLaren Mercedes junior team is called - and their head is the most famous race engineer in history, David Brown, in the past working for the world champions Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Ayrton Senna. Heidfelds way to Formula One only took 6 years - with 4 titles (also winning the German Formula Ford championships 1994 (1600 ccm) and 1995 (1800ccm) to his credit during this short period. Throughout the last 3 years "Quick Nick", how he is called all over his home country, also has been test driver for McLaren Mercedes with a record distance of 10.000 kilometres of driving under circumstances without the pressures of race conditions and the hunt of the mass media. Testing 10.000 kilometres means driving the Grand Prix distances of two complete seasons and using about 20 engines - each of a minimum worth of 750.000 D-Marks, but the value of informations Heidfeld gave to the engineers was not able to be paid. The "Third Man" behind Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, the school-boy next door (born 10th May 1997) in the Silver Arrow, is a methodical analyst. An engineering type of racing driver like Niki Lauda was. And a racer, too. Now the MTV- and VIVA generation comes to the grid, Nick Heidfeld enters Grand Prix with the Gauloises sponsored and Peugeot powered national car of French professor Alain Prost (whose ancestors came from Armenia !) fourtimes world champion (1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993), as a driver on the top of the all-time-greatest with 51 Grand Prix victories, but as an entrant confronted with more problems than exspected. Blue-metallic instead of silver: Inspiration is needed in France. There is the vulcano from Sicily, Jean Alesi, frustrated after 2 years full of discipline with the Swiss based team of Peter Sauber, and there is the young Rhinelander with the A-levels degree, cool and sensitive, understanding French, but not able to speak fluently. It is no wonder, that most of the German Grand Prix drivers come from

The little Silver Arrow. Mercedes baby is on the way to a great career in 2000 with the all-French Prost Peugeot team. A one-year-contract will give him the possibility to race and to learn without pressure.

from the region near Cologne. Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips from Kerpen-Horrem (the Schumachers come from Kerpen-Manheim), the Ferrari driver loosing his life in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at Monza when being on the way to the world championship, once had imported the go-karts from the United States of America - and made a whole generation of kids going mad of driving these "lawn-mowers". The first go-kart track had been founded at Kerpen, followed by Mönchengladbach and Oppenrod near Giessen, where Karl Kling and Stefan Bellof come from. And the Nürburgring with its famous Nordschleife, the "Green Hell", the longest and most challenging circuit the entire world of motor racing has ever seen, is only one hour away from the region going by car.

Now it is up to Nick Heidfeld to follow this great tradition. To be on top in the lower formulas is necessary for coming into Formula One. But it is no guarantee for becoming a future world champion as the examples of Jean Alesi, Martin Brundle or Jan Magnussen show us dramatically. And the German press can be very, very cruel. They make a sportsman fly high first - only to get the possibility to shoot him down next. I am sure that Nick, the man for the next millennium, will take that in his mind. For that reason: Everything will be possible ...

* * *

Nick Heidfeld had a very poor debut season in 2000 with the Prost team being out of organisation and technical quality throughout the year. The desaster became so great that Nick had to fear for the continuation of his Grand Prix career with the years`s anti-climax of being involved in a collision with his team mate Jean Alesi during the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg. Prost Grand Prix did not score a single point in 2000 making Heidfeld leave the French team for a possible better future at Red Bull Sauber Petronas from Switzerland. They had been partners of Mercedes-Benz for many years both for sportscar and Grand Prix racing and bring another advantage to Nick by sharing the same German language. With having signed a three-years-contract things should look better both for the driver and the team.

Klaus Ewald

 

The Prost Peugeot AP04 was the poorest design of the 2000 Grand Prix season making the French team finishing last in the manufacturers´ championship behind the small Minardi Fondmetal equipe and engine supplier Peugeot retire from F1. In his first Grand Prix season Nick Heidfeld did not score a single point.

 

Pensive. Nick Heidfeld (centre) having breakfast with his team mate Jean Alesi (left) and team principal Alain Prost in the motorhome of the French team.

 

 

Three years with the team of Sauber Petronas from Switzerland 2001 - 2003

 

A character-building season with Jordan Ford in 2004, the last year of charismatic
Irishman Eddie Jordan

 

 

Photos © by West Competition, Prost Grand Prix, Sauber Motorsport, Jordan Grand Prix and
Allianz F1

Story written and published in 2000

 

© 2000 - 2005 by researchracing

 

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