Nick Heidfeld has admitted that he hopes the knowledge he is currently gaining from working with Pirelli's 2011 F1 tyres will open the door to him returning to the F1 grid next season.
The withdrawal of BMW at the end of last season saw Heidfeld left without a drive, with the German instead signing up to a role of test and reserve driver with Mercedes.
A lack of testing opportunities thanks to the in-season ban on testing meant Heidfeld spent the first half of the year kicking his heels on the sidelines before the chance arose to join Pirelli as a test driver as the company works on development of the tyres it will for its return to F1 next year.
Having had the chance to test the new tyres twice already, Heidfeld admits that the early knowledge he has gained could work in his favour as he evaluates options for next season.
“I think it is obvious that this fact helps,” he said in an interview with the official F1 website. “We are in talks with a couple of teams and everybody knows that I am helping Pirelli develop the tyres. So yes, it is a bonus, and yes, there are definite talks for next season, but so far no signature. I am quite confident of making a return to the grid next year. I am very thankful to Mercedes that they let me go. They always said that they would not stand in my way should there be an opportunity for me, and they didn't.
“It is no secret that I'm not doing these tests for money but in order to pave my way back into a cockpit for 2011. I am helping Pirelli to develop their tyres - I give them my comments, they implement them, and so we improve the tyres step by step. That should be an asset for many teams.”
Heidfeld's chance of a return could in fact come sooner than expected, with rumours following the Monza weekend that he may be back in a race seat as early as Singapore later this month.
While the team has declined to comment on the rumours, the BBC
reports that Heidfeld could be set for a return to Sauber for the final five rounds of the year as a replacement for Pedro de la Rosa.
The Spaniard has endured a difficult season and has scored just one points finish – and admitted earlier this year that he was unsure what his options might be for next season.
Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi has already extended his deal with the team into 2011 although Sauber has made no comment on who will partner the Japanese racer.