Nick Heidfeld has revealed that he was 'very close' to agreeing terms to join McLaren-Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton in F1 2010, until Jenson Button's contractual impasse
with Brawn GP suddenly released the reigning world champion onto the market and scuppered his German rival's chances at the eleventh hour.
Heidfeld was inarguably the unluckiest man of the 2009/10 'off' season, after being strongly linked with McLaren and Mercedes Grand Prix (formerly Brawn GP) – two of the four widely-anticipated front-runners this year – only to in the final reckoning be passed over by both. The Mönchengladbach native had also been in talks with Honda in 2008 to join what would turn out to be – against all odds – last year's double world champions Brawn, but his then employer BMW put a stop to that by taking up its option on him.
The McLaren and Mercedes snub left the experienced 32-year-old with few remaining possibilities for the forthcoming campaign, and he ultimately elected to join Mercedes anyway, only as test and reserve driver, bringing to an end – either permanently or, he hopes, temporarily – his decade-long competitive career at the highest level.
The move also means Heidfeld will be working alongside the man who pipped him to the Stuttgart manufacturer's second seat this year, multiple world champion returnee Michael Schumacher – but explaining that he bears his record-breaking countryman no rancour, 'Quick Nick' added that he is keeping himself fully in-shape in case the opportunity presents itself to return to the cockpit on a grand prix weekend, either in 2010 or 2011...
“McLaren wanted to have me,” the man reckoned most likely to succeed Sauber recruit Pedro de la Rosa as the chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) told Sport Bild
. “The negotiations were very close to a conclusion, and [after that fell through] I decided [to wait] for Mercedes.
“When we (he and Schumacher) saw one another at the Jerez test for the first time, he in a way apologised to me that he had taken the place. It was a nice gesture, but if the reverse had been true, I would have done the same.
“For 2011 I see a good chance of getting back a race seat, but for the moment, I am concentrated on my role at Mercedes. What comes as a result, we will see.”