As had been widely anticipated, BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld has finally been confirmed in the role of test and reserve driver at reigning double world champions Mercedes Grand Prix in F1 2010 – completing an all-German triumvirate at the Brackley-based outfit alongside countrymen Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
Like Schumacher, Heidfeld is a former Mercedes Junior returning to his motorsport roots, having begun his association with the celebrated three-pointed star after prevailing in the German F3 Championship in 1997, as a reward for which the Mönchengladbach native was invited to test an F1 car for the first time with McLaren-Mercedes – and clearly impressed.
He was consequently appointed McLaren test driver for 1998 and 1999, over which period Mercedes supported him in International F3000 (now GP2), as 'the man dubbed 'Quick Nick' within the paddock finished as runner-up in his first campaign in the F1 feeder series and lifted the laurels in the second with West Competition.
The Stuttgart manufacturer subsequently overlooked its protégé, however, when it poached Kimi Raikkonen away from Sauber at the end of 2001 to replace retiring compatriot Mika Hakkinen at McLaren, rather than choosing to promote the Finn's team-mate Heidfeld, who had that season outscored the man who would go on to become 2007 F1 World Champion by twelve points to nine.
The 32-year-old was similarly passed over by Mercedes in favour of Schumacher to partner Rosberg in 2010, and his recruitment as reserve driver rather than race driver means that after a decade in the sport yielding twelve podiums and 219 points but no grand prix victory – making him statistically the driver who has scored the most points, the equal-most rostrum finishes and the most second-place finishes in the history of the top flight without actually triumphing – Heidfeld's stint as an active F1 driver looks to be over at the same time as that of Raikkonen. Not that he seems unduly upset.
“I am very pleased to be joining the Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One Team,” he revealed. “It's the team that has attracted the most interest over the close season, not only because of the comeback of Michael Schumacher but also because this season sees the return of the Silver Arrows cars as a Mercedes-Benz works team for the first time in over 50 years.
“Whilst I would of course have preferred a seat as an active driver, I am really proud to be part of the new Silver Arrows team. I have seen how committed everyone at the team is and I feel the same. I will be doing my very best to support Michael and Nico this year.”
Indeed, in recent weeks it appeared that Heidfeld was the subject of something of a tug-of-love between Mercedes and McLaren, both of whom he had initially been linked with in respect to their available race seats. The former's team principal Ross Brawn expressed his delight that he had successfully got his man.
“It's a great pleasure for us to have signed a driver of the calibre and experience of Nick Heidfeld as our reserve and test driver for the 2010 season,” underlined the Englishman. “Nick has over ten years of experience in Formula 1 working with established teams, and he will be a great asset to Mercedes GP Petronas. I am confident that his input into the development of our MGP W01 car will be invaluable. We look forward to welcoming Nick and working closely with him."
“To sign Nick Heidfeld as reserve and test driver means another re-enforcement for our team,” concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “We have known each other for many years, and Nick was supported by our junior drivers' programme from 1997. During his ten years in Formula 1, circumstances often made it difficult for him to achieve his breakthrough. However, Nick is extremely capable and he will be an asset to our team.”