As one of six German drivers in the F1 2011 field heading into his home grand prix at the Nürburgring, Nick Heidfeld is optimistic of 'a significant step forward' for Lotus Renault GP, as the team bids to regain its early-season advantage over closest rival Mercedes GP – and as he prepares to take a nostalgic trip 'down memory lane'.
Lotus Renault GP has struggled for pace for several races now, with Valencia and Silverstone particularly trying encounters that resulted in just tenth and eighth places respectively, both tallied by Heidfeld. The 34-year-old's British Grand Prix performance, indeed, was something of an exercise in damage limitation, as he worked hard to recover from a lowly 16th position on the grid. Now, he asserts, it is time to bite back.
“It is definitely not what we were hoping for, but if you look at the problems we faced on Friday and then Saturday when I qualified 16th, I think eighth on Sunday was about the best I could have done,” he reflected of the team's Silverstone trials-and-tribulations. “It was actually a fun race, with some nice battles out there, and we faced some interesting weather conditions going from a wet part of the track to a dry part.
“Four points is not what we're aiming for, though – we need more, deserve more and we must be pro-active in making that happen. I really believe that we will be able to score a greater number of points over the next few races, as we have some more interesting developments to bolt onto the car.
“I know that there are some bigger developments coming than we had at the last couple of races. There has been a tremendous amount of work going on in the wind tunnel, so I am very hopeful that we will take a significant step forward. We have had to demonstrate our patience during what were a couple of challenging races recently, but now is the time for us to take that step forward and compete with the top teams again, which is where we belong.”
Confessing to having 'many happy memories' of the Nürburgring – scene of his first and thus far only F1 pole position six years ago with Williams, the runner-up spoils in the race the following day and a circuit he knows well having cycled there and sledged in the snow – Heidfeld is hopeful that Lotus Renault GP's raft of upgrades allied to his 'local' knowledge and expertise will pay dividends this weekend.
“It is always special to be in Germany,” enthused 'Quick Nick'. “There are obviously a lot more fans supporting me there, and especially at the Nürburgring – I have so many nice memories from racing at this track. Learning how to ride a bike, driving a go-kart and sledging in the snow are all things I did at the Nürburgring. I also won some races in junior categories there and got my first pole position in F1, so coming back is like a trip down memory lane. I like the new circuit a lot, but of course the old circuit – the Nordschleife – is even more special.
“The fans are very enthusiastic, and they have every reason to be because firstly Sebastian [Vettel] is leading and fighting for the championship, and secondly we have a number of German drivers in the championship giving it their best shot. I'm proud to be one of those drivers, and proud to be representing Lotus Renault GP on the grid.
“My objective is always to perform to the very best that I can. I hope the car is strong, so that we can go back to qualifying in the top ten – which is exactly where we should be – and then get even stronger in the constructors' championship. We need to take the fight to Mercedes who just overtook us, but we know we are more than capable of a fourth-placed finish [in the title standings] this season.”