Pirelli is confident that in Nick Heidfeld, it has recruited precisely the right man for the job of developing its F1 2011 tyre compounds ahead of its return to the grand prix grid next season for the first time in two decades – as testing got underway at Mugello.
Heidfeld was confirmed as Pirelli's official test driver yesterday (Tuesday), after Mercedes Grand Prix released the experienced German from his reserve driver role with the reigning double F1 World Champions [see separate story – click here
]. The 33-year-old competed in the top flight from 2000 right up to the end of last season, beginning 167 races that yielded 219 points and twelve podium finishes, though no victory. He is also presently chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA).
The Mönchengladbach native will conduct a series of test sessions at Mugello, Jerez, Monza and Paul Ricard from this month onwards. The tyre development work will focus on finding the delicate compromise between performance, consistency, durability and spectacle needed next season, and the initial two-day run kicked off less than two months after Pirelli concluded a three-year agreement with world motorsport's governing body the FIA to become the sole tyre-supplier to F1 from 2011, in addition to separate deals with both GP2 and GP3. Predecessor Bridgestone will pull out at the end of the current campaign following 14 consecutive years on the grid.
Heidfeld's input will be pivotal as Pirelli fine-tunes the specification of its four compounds, two of which will be used in each race next year, as per the regulations. His consistency is a crucial asset in this task, given that 'Quick Nick' holds the record for the highest number of successive race classifications in F1 with 41 – and he is palpably champing at the bit to get back behind the wheel following a season of comparative inactivity due to the strict testing regulations now in-place.
“It's a great privilege for me to join Pirelli in order to carry out this vital work, and I am very grateful to Mercedes GP for releasing me from my contract to take on this role,” he remarked. “Through the experience I have built up over the years, I'm confident that I will be able to provide Pirelli with some important feedback regarding the development of next year's tyres.
“I've got a lot to give but I haven't been driving so much this year, so it is good to get started! Together, I'm sure we can create a dynamic range of tyres that will make F1 an even more exciting sport in the future.”
“We're delighted to welcome Nick into the Pirelli family, and we're confident that he'll do a great job for us,” concurred the Italian company's motorsport director Paul Hembery. “The role of test driver is a crucial one, so we were looking for a driver who had plenty of recent F1 experience, the speed to push our new tyres as hard as possible and the consistency to provide reliable simulations, as well as the analytical skills to relay information accurately to our engineers. Nick fits the bill in every respect, and we're very pleased to have secured his services and obviously thankful to Mercedes for agreeing to release him from his contract.”
Heidfeld will use Toyota's 2009-spec TF109 to test the new rubber that all the teams will use from 2011 onwards. The TF109 was the last F1 car produced by the Japanese manufacturer before it withdrew from the sport, and as such it provides relatively up-to-date technology and performance with which to push the new Pirelli PZero tyres to the limit, but does not hand an advantage to any current team. Hembery reckons that makes it the ideal choice.
“We have a policy of complete impartiality, so we did not want to favour any existing team,” the Englishman explained. “The Toyota was the perfect solution, as it is a contemporary racing machine with proven speed and reliability but without links to any of the manufacturers currently competing in F1. We are familiar with most of the grand prix tracks and surfaces, as well as their temperatures, and I'm confident that we have an extremely good package that will give us every opportunity to maximise the potential of our tyres prior to the start of next season.”
Following Heidfeld's on-track work with the Toyota, all of the F1 2010 outfits will get the chance to test the new tyres at the Yas Marina Circuit in the wake of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.