Just Electric

Nick Heidfeld: “We changed the perception of many people”

From his debut in 2014, Nick Heidfeld has been one of Formula E’s most recognisable drivers. The German, whose podium and point scoring consistency has given Mahindra Racing many joys over the seasons, caught up with Editor Andrea Perilli to discuss all-things Formula E.

It is rare to find drivers who have such fruitful careers for many years, yet, there are some exceptions to the rule. One clear example of this, is Nick Heidfeld. The German has been racing at a top level for over fifteen years, delivering good results and showcasing serious professionalism.

His name is generally known from the twelve years he spent in Formula 1, but for new racing fans, the name Heidfeld can also be associated with Formula E. In fact, the 40 year-old has been racing in the fully-electric championship since the series started, only missing one race due to an injury.

“I took electric racing too serious from the beginning. I thought it was a fantastic and interesting idea”, he comments. He is one of the 11 drivers to still remain in the series after their Season 1 debut; and one of the eight to have taken part in the Beijing race in September of 2014.

Ever since his eventful debut, Heidfeld has become one of the most representative drivers of the series. It was partly because of him and the other racers that Formula E earned a reputation rather quickly, as they proved the competitive level the series always had.

“I believe the criticism people had towards Formula E has changed and a lot of people see it more positively now, but for sure there are people who still don’t like it, who miss the normal engine sound, and like seeing ‘old styles’ of motor racing.

“But we have a lot more spectators now, a lot more fans; and personally I’ve spoken to a lot of people, back in Season 2, they said ‘I tuned in the race by chance and it’s quite nice’, so I think we changed the perception of many people”.

This scepticism not only came from people, but also from drivers strangers to the world of Formula E. As anyone who has ever driven one of these electric machines will tell you, these cars are not easy to drive, considering you have to pay attention to a lot of aspects while you race in generally narrow circuits with tight corners.

“Many people thought that Formula E was not the place to be in, not all the drivers, but some of them. It has changed very quickly and if you look at the level of drivers we have in Formula E, it’s quite outstanding, it’s comparable to Formula 1, and I think there is no other series where you can say that”.

Credit: LAT/Formula E

After a season with Venturi, the Mönchengladbach native moved to Mahindra Racing. On his first ever race for the Indian team, Heidfeld finished in P3, giving the team its first podium and starting a prolific journey with them.

Mahindra Racing would become the talk of the town in Season 3. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist gave the team its first win, and with Heidfeld, the pair went on to become one of the strongest lineups of the season, with a level of consistency that took the squad to finish third overall in the Teams’ Championship.

This performance improvement was not due to luck, but the efforts of two seasons of hard work paying off. Heidfeld’s work had a lot to do with getting the car running in the front, as he has seen the team going from the back of the grid, to be one of the title challengers.

As a driver with a vast experience in the Formula 1 environment, with big teams and thousands of people working within the paddock, Formula E contrasts a lot to what one might be used to. But for the 40 year-old, he says working with a Formula E team can be an advantage for a driver.

“Mahindra Racing is one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve worked with, for a couple of reasons. One is that, compared to Formula 1, for example, the team is obviously a lot smaller, so you can have more influence in anything”, he says in all honesty.

If there is something people often tend to forget when they see the drivers fighting each other on track, is that those people they are cheering for are also human beings and they, as anyone else, do a job for a living.

And while happiness and success are likely to happen in this industry, to get this you have to go through things like stress and tiredness sometimes. For a driver, it does occur on track and behind the scenes, as they, along with the whole team, work together to get the best car possible for the race weekend.

“At the moment we are practising something, like small adjustments for the car, and I never had my mechanics saying “let’s have a break, let’s do something else that isn’t quite demanding” because I’m always pushing very hard and always want to keep on going and improve to give a hundred percent; and while this sounds normal, it is not”.

Nick narrates how this type of actions are something teammate Rosenqvist and him always highlight about working with Mahindra Racing. “This is the best I’ve ever felt in any team”, he adds.

As for the crew he works with, Heidfeld praises the hard work they do all the time. Seen from the outside, whether you are at the track or watching from TV, you could feel the sort of familiar vibe the team has. This proximity between team members is, according to Heidfeld, one of the reasons why the team is succeeding these days.

“I think that’s also why we are so strong in the championship, at the moment. It does not come from anything. In Season 1, the team was towards the back, and now we are towards the front, winning races, having good results in the Teams’ Championship, and also in the Drivers’ Championship with Felix”.

The German did have a good start of the season, but has not been in the podium since Marrakesh, as he had to retire in the last three rounds. “For sure my performance for the rest of the season can be improved. It’s a target. I’ve had some bad luck here and there, but I’ve also made some mistakes.

“There are still a lot of races ahead. The championship for me, unfortunately, is far away, but I just try to do the best I can; and at the end of the season we’ll see where this will take me”, he continues.

As Mahindra Racing are back in the fight for both championships, Heidfeld will be a key figure as he has been all this time. A driver with his feet on the ground and an experience that not anyone has, he has become one of the series’ most iconic drivers and will always be giving the best of him as he has done throughout his career.

Andrea Perilli

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