Badger’s intrepid Bobblehat Sarah Merritt caught up with new Mahindra signing Nick Heidfeld during the second Formula E pre-season test.
In the third of my pieces from the Formula E Testing at Donington I caught up for a chat with Nick Heidfeld, who has this year joined the Mahindra Racing team. I met Nick at the back of the Mahindra garage, and as we looked for somewhere to sit down for our conversation. The back of one of the team trucks stood out as seeming to lend itself well to the purpose. Read on to see what Nicks thought are about the upcoming second Formula E season, and how he still thinks fondly of his time in the McLaren MP4/13 at Goodwood.
How have you spent the break since the London e-Prix? Or have you been busy with your other commitments?
There was a bit of the break between the Formula E seasons. I was in a camper for a couple of weeks, and I had one test in Spain with Mahindra, but I had a decent summer break. Actually the longest one I’ve had in a long time, because normally, as you said, even though there’s a break you always have something else going on.
And how are you settling in at Mahindra? I was watching you and Bruno in the garage earlier, and you seem to have a very good relationship and close interaction – as he was coming back to the garage, you were going over to the car and sharing information.
It’s been very good from day one, and of course I know him from the past. I think the settling in from my point of view has worked quite well, I don’t know what the team says, but I have a good feeling and I enjoy working with them.
As we know, you combine your Formula E drive with endurance racing for Rebellion. How difficult a transition is it between the two disciplines? It must seem quite noisy after formula E, for instance?
Yeah it does, but it is not as difficult as I expected first time out. With sports cars there’s a lot more power, more downforce, and it’s quite a lot quicker, but I settled in quite quickly last time and I hope it will be the same this time.
There are a lot of changes coming in Formula E Season 2, as we start to see the cars diverging from their previously identical power train and its components. How do you feel that is looking for you and Mahindra? Do you think it will be down to reliability next season?
It might be down to reliability at the beginning of the season, this is what some people think, and there’s only a few days of testing until the first race. But some of the stuff you can do, you don’t need to drive for – you can go on an engine bench or other things. So maybe at the beginning of the season reliability will be important, and for sure, more important than last season.
Something I was talking to Sam Bird about earlier was the power of a home race, which of course he experienced in London. Is this something that you appreciate, and do you think you’ll feel the benefit of this when the Championship reaches Berlin?
I enjoyed Berlin a lot last season, but I actually think when I’m in the car and working with the team, it doesn’t change anything. I enjoyed going to Berlin more than I enjoyed going to other races, even though they are all fantastic venues, to have and feel the support there, but I think driving-wise it doesn’t change me. Maybe subconsciously it does, but I don’t feel any different.
You’ve amassed a lot of fans across the different series’ that you’ve driven within, including F1, WEC, and now Formula E. If you had to pick a favourite series, could you?
Yes. It would be Formula One. It is simply the quickest cars, with the best drivers, with the best everything as there’s a lot of money for development.
And a lot of money for tickets for fans too!
Yes that’s true, and that’s a downside. But it would be Formula One.
You still hold the record at Goodwood for going up the hill in the McLaren MP4/13 (In 1999, with 41.6 seconds – Ed.)
Does it feel good when you get to drive that car again at displays and events?
Yeah, I love it, I love it…(smiles)….the driving, but especially the engine sound, it’s just fantastic. You jump in the car and you open the throttle to bring the idle up, and it brings back memories very quickly. Yes, I like it.
You started off in karting when you were younger. Is that something you’d like your children to do, or would you warn then away from motorsport?
Neither, I would want them to decide for themselves, I would not push them either way, but I think knowing what is involved to make it to the top, and it being motorsport, and the danger of it, and the risk of not succeeding……well, I would think about it a lot, but I would try not to influence them at all.
Now I have a few questions from fans on Twitter:
What is your favourite dinosaur?
Good question…at least it’s a question that nobody has asked me before. (Thinks). Maybe the Brontosaurus, I think it is called? The biggest one.
That’s a different answer, people seem to answer T-Rex a lot…
Ah, but the Brontosaurus probably doesn’t have to fear the T-Rex as it’s a lot bigger and stronger.
If you are having a naughty food day, when you are able to eat what you like, what would your favourite indulgence be?
My favourite dish is Foie Gras. It’s quite fatty, but I like it a lot.
What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever been given by a fan?
You can call it strange, but in a positive way. It was in China – you know origami? Where they fold a piece of paper? I was given a big cup with 1000 stars in it. That was really cool.
What classic circuit would you like to drive a Formula E car around, if you could?
That’s a difficult one because Formula E needs very tight circuits, we cannot go to modern tracks. If you had asked for Formula One, I would have said Imola, but Formula E? (Thinks again).
It’s a difficult one, because even for Monaco last year, you drove a cut-down version of the F1 circuit.
That is a good answer actually, Monaco, but the big one, because it’s a pity. You know you are going there, and then you turn right and miss some of the nice parts.
Nick was very interesting to talk to – he was very considered, and thought about the questions I was asking him before giving a detailed and structured answer. This was in keeping with what I had expected – I’d been watching Nick in the garage during the day, and it was clear he was not a driver who sat back and let things happen around him. He was actively talking to his team mate on his return from runs out on track, as well as consulting with his engineers, and Mahindra Team Principal Dilbagh Gill. At one point, we saw Nick crouched down by his car, feeling the underside of the front wing as if looking for imperfections. I liked this attention to detail. I think he will be pushing as hard as possible this season to move Mahindra up the grid, and I wish both he and the team good luck as they embark on this when the season commences in Beijing in October.