Peter Sauber has defended the performance of Nick Heidfeld on the experienced German's return to active competition with his former employers in last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix – after the Mönchengladbach native languished some way adrift of team-mate Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying and was subsequently sent crashing out of the race by compatriot Michael Schumacher.
Heidfeld rejoined the grand prix grid having being recruited to replace the disappointing Pedro de la Rosa – who has conversely settled into his erstwhile job as Pirelli test driver – but after lapping right on the pace of Kobayashi during the two Friday practice sessions, come Saturday's qualifying showdown the young Japanese ace moved up a gear and 'Quick Nick' was unable to emulate him, struggling to get to grips with the current-spec Bridgestone tyres.
Despite proving the quicker of the pair in Q1, in Q2 Heidfeld was barely able to get to within a second of Kobayashi's best effort, leaving the pair respectively tenth and 15th on the starting grid. From there, the 33-year-old endured a frustrating race, with damage early on caused by the Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi, and finding himself removed from contention altogether whilst lying in 13th place on lap 37, when Schumacher came barreling down his inside and shoved him into the Marina Bay circuit's barriers.
“Of course I would have hoped for a better result and I wanted to finish the race,” he mused afterwards, “but in my view, Michael was braking a bit too late and knocked me out of the race. My race was compromised soon after the start anyway. Vitantonio Liuzzi wanted to pass me from a long way off on the outside in Turn Four. Then I believe he braked early, and unfortunately I crashed into him.
“The car wasn't easy to drive with the missing rear wing end-plate and, anyway, the set-up had not been ideal because you are not allowed to change anything after qualifying. However, having said that, the lap times were not too bad for a while in the race. I'm now looking forward to my favourite circuit, Suzuka.”
Kobayashi, for his part, similarly duelled energetically with Schumacher, only to crash out of ninth position shortly before mid-distance as he pushed hard to make up ground once he had released himself from behind the tardy Mercedes – and then to add insult to injury, he was shunted into himself by the Hispania Racing entry of the unsighted Bruno Senna.
“It was clearly my mistake,” reflected the 24-year-old rookie. “After I overtook Michael Schumacher, I knew I had to push very, very hard to score a point, but meanwhile the tyres were completely gone. I misjudged this in that corner and crashed into the barrier. Then Bruno Senna crashed into my car as well. The overall damage is quite bad.
“At the start it was very close and I lost one place to Vitaly Petrov. Against Mark Webber I had no chance, and then I was tenth behind Michael. I could have gone faster but had no chance to overtake. When I saw an opportunity I attacked him and it worked. Then, as I said, I pushed like hell and ended up in the barrier...”
Eponymous team principal and founder Sauber, however, refused to attach blame to either of his drivers for their respective retirements and sought to comfort a palpably disappointed Heidfeld, insisting that he does not intend to 'judge' the twelve-time podium-finisher until the Japanese Grand Prix in just under a fortnight's time, once he has had time to 'settle in' better.