An 'emotional' Nick Heidfeld admitted that he struggled to rein his feelings in during the closing laps of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the weekend, as he produced a strong performance to finish well inside the points on BMW's final appearance in F1.
Heidfeld's future in the top flight – after 167 grand prix starts and twelve podium finishes, albeit no victories – remains uncertain following the announcement that BMW is to withdraw from competition at season's end, but in racing from eighth on the starting grid to a superb fifth at the chequered flag on F1's United Arab Emirates debut, right in the wheel tracks of Brawn GP's Rubens Barrichello, the experienced German staked his claim to a prolonged future at the highest level in some style.
“I am very happy with my fifth place,” revealed the 32-year-old from Mönchengladbach, who was presented with an F1 car by Peter Sauber for all his hard work and commitment to the cause during the seven years he has spent at Hinwil. “It was a good race in which I was able to get the maximum out of the car and score four points, which was enough to reach our target for the end of the season to overtake Williams in the constructors' championship. After I have been a little unlucky in recent races, this time I was really able to exploit the car's potential.
“For quite a long period I was able to go at the same speed as the world champion's car, the Brawn. The strategy to go for a rather long stint paid off, and the track was even more fun when it had more rubber on it. It is a pleasing end to our last season together. It now becomes very emotional. During the last laps I had to pull myself together in order to keep my concentration.”
Renault-bound team-mate Robert Kubica, meanwhile, was overshadowed by Heidfeld on race day around the spectacular, all-new, Hermann Tilke-designed Yas Marina street circuit, despite showing feisty form early on to get the better of Toyota rival Jarno Trulli following a brief but entertaining scrap and going on to threaten the Brawn GP pairing of Barrichello and Jenson Button. However, the Pole would slip down the order following his first pit-stop, and thereafter endured a costly spin as he endeavoured to steal the final point away from Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sébastien Buemi.
“I lost the race in the second stint when I was very slow,” the Kraków native confessed, “while in the first stint I was able to go at quite a good pace, similar to Rubens. The car was working very well, [but] after changing tyres I had no grip at all. The track was getting quicker and I just could not go at the pace of the other drivers. This was very strange.
“My fight with Sébastien Buemi was quite tough and a bit dangerous. We nearly touched when braking into the chicane. He first moved to the left and blocked the inside of the left-hander, then when I moved to the right he pushed me over the high inside kerb of the right-hander section of the chicane and I spun. He did not leave any space at all. Thanks a lot to the team for the last four years. I hope to meet them back on the grid next year.”
Heidfeld's efforts, though, helped BMW-Sauber to achieve its pre-weekend objective of pipping former F1 partner Williams to sixth spot in the final constructors' standings, and though still far from pre-season expectations, the late flourish did enable the Bavarian outfit to claim one last minor victory as it prepares now to depart the fray following 70 starts, one win, 17 rostrum finishes and 308 points in its four years as a manufacturer in its own right.
“That was once again a strong weekend for our team in the season finale,” underlined BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen. “Starting from eighth, Nick consistently moved up to fifth thanks to a very good performance. Robert was unlucky three times during the race; after each pit-stop he came back on the track behind a slower car, and due to the collision with Buemi he lost one position.