Nick Heidfeld will complete an all-German 'super team' alongside countrymen Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes Grand Prix in F1 2010, his manager has confirmed – a move that could bring down the curtain on the career of one of the best drivers never to actually win a race in the top flight.
Heidfeld made his bow at the highest level with Prost Grand Prix in 2000, with a burgeoning reputation as the reigning International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion. However, a poor car during his maiden campaign left that reputation somewhat battered and bruised, and subsequent stints at Sauber and Jordan merely left him treading water as a career that arguably should have taken off went into neutral.
There were flashes of form at Williams in 2005, and his four years spent at BMW-Sauber from 2006 to 2009 yielded eight rostrum finishes – but sadly no grand prix victory. A consistent performer – witness his records for the most consecutive race classifications at 41, and most finishes in a season with 18 in 2008 – who has often been rated as one of the most underrated drivers in the field, Heidfeld's inability to adapt to Bridgestone's new qualifying tyre in 2008 left him on the back foot and saw him come off second-best in comparison with emerging team-mate Robert Kubica.
Whilst honours between the pair were rather more even in 2009 – and 'Quick Nick' indeed outscored the Pole by 19 points to 17 – in many observers' eyes, by that stage the damage had already been done, and when BMW announced that it was pulling the plug come season's end, the man from Mönchengladbach was suddenly left seeking alternative employment.
Linked with the vacant berth at Renault alongside Kubica, Scuderia Toro Rosso and for a long time Mercedes itself – before it became apparent that the seat was being reserved for someone of altogether greater significance – it seems that Heidfeld has now pledged his future allegiance to the three-pointed star.
It was the Stuttgart manufacturer that supported him throughout many of the junior formulae but overlooked him in favour of then Sauber team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at the beginning of 2002, electing to snap up the Finn to replace his retiring compatriot Mika Hakkinen at McLaren-Mercedes. That moment was what many hold to be the pivotal turning-point when through no fault of his own, Heidfeld's F1 career eschewed the 'rising star' route to instead head down the 'journeyman' path.
He is due to be officially presented in his new role when Mercedes' F1 2010 challenger is launched on Monday (25 January), meaning his time on the grand prix grid may now have reached the end of the road at the age of just 32.
“Nick wants to concentrate fully on his job as test driver and support the regular drivers with his experience,” his manager Andre Theuerzeit told German magazine Bild
. “Nick focussed on a seat with one of the top teams, but unfortunately we were unable to sign him up so we have gone for another opportunity.”
The revelation suggests Renault is looking for a pay driver to partner Kubica at Enstone in F1 2010.