Ex Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld is currently racing in the Formula E Championship and the young German has been there since the very first race, September 13 2014, and his feeling on the series haven't changed.
Currently competing for the Mahindra Racing Team, Nick spoke with the sport's official website as he took a look back at how the series has developed since that very first race around the streets of Beijing….
Formula E has certainly progressed consistently in that period. The teams have become bigger, not so much at the track where staff numbers are limited by the regulations, but back at base, especially so in the case of teams that have the backing of a car manufacturer. When I arrived in Hong Kong for the first race of season 3, I was struck by the layout of some of the garages, which were a tangible sign that the series has made a significant step forward. The same goes for the driver, who can for example give greater feedback to the team. At the same time, interest has grown in the media and it is proving more popular with the general public, partly down to the increasing number of constructors now involved.
Given your extensive experience in so many categories, including F1 and endurance racing, do you think Formula E provides a thrilling enough challenge for a driver?
“I am really happy to be driving in this category and I believe that tackling an ePrix is a pretty big task for a driver. Let me give you an example: if you ask a Formula 1 driver which are his favourite tracks, the overwhelming majority will go for the street circuits, apart from the two “sacred monsters” of Spa and Suzuka. Well, in Formula E, we race almost exclusively on temporary tracks in the heart of a city, where there are virtually no escape roads and the walls are always just centimetres away. They are really fun tracks and on top of that, there's the difficulty of learning them in a very short space of time, given the programme on race day. Then, I'd have to say that the average ability level of the drivers is high, which makes it all very challenging. And the icing on the cake is that all the cities in which we race are fantastic!
Could this category serve as an alternative to or a way in to Formula 1?
When we started, I thought Formula E would probably be ideal for a driver with a similar background to mine, but now, given the arrival of talented youngsters, for example my team-mate, Felix Rosenqvist, I think that if it's not quite a genuine alternative, it is definitely an important outlet for those who, possibly for financial reasons, don't have a genuine chance of making it in F1. Furthermore, to establish yourself in Formula E, not only do you need to have speed, pure and simple, you also need to be quick thinking, so as to manage the available energy as well as possible. Of course, these skills also make the difference in F1, which indicates that our championship can begin to be also considered as a stepping stone in the development of a career.
Do you feel that Formula E is useful when it comes to promoting a different model of mobility, one that is more orientated towards environmental sustainability?
Definitely! When I first came into contact with this series, I told myself that one of the messages that needed to be put across was that electric cars can be fun. And so I believe the contribution the series makes on this front is really significant: today, thanks to Formula E, apart from the impact of constructors such as Tesla and BMW among others, no one still thinks that an electric car has to be slow and boring. And that feeling will continue to grow: it's no coincidence that the number of constructors involved in this championship is due to increase. The aim is that the electric cars are getting ever more exciting and environmentally friendly, which makes them more attractive, especially for the younger generation.
More generally, how do you see the future of motor sport?
It's a fact that youngsters, particularly those who grow up in cities, can be less interested in cars, but I believe that they will continue to like racing as the taste for speed will always be there. Then, it's true there are new sports coming along all the time, for example free climbing, which can deliver excitement in different ways and so motor sport might not be as popular as in the past, but all the same there is still plenty of interest in it.
And what of your own personal future? Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Ah, who knows…When I left F1, I began thinking about what I could do to have some fun, maybe doing something completely different, but then I realised that I didn't want to stop racing and so I stayed in this world. Looking back, I can't say really if I have any regrets: of course, I'm disappointed not to have won in F1. When I first began there, I thought I'd win races and championships and that was how I felt at the start of each season. Of course it's easy to say that things could have been different depending on the choices I made, but with hindsight, everything is possible…”