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Heidfeld still rankled by Raikkonen
Alan Baldwin | July 28, 2003 11:19 IST
Nick Heidfeld still has difficulty understanding why McLaren passed him over for Kimi Raikkonen in 2001.
The softly lisping German driver, preparing for his home Formula One grand prix at Hockenheim next weekend, suspects that he might have got further by making more noise about his own talents.
Heidfeld was team mate to Raikkonen, now Michael Schumacher's closest championship rival, at Sauber in the Finn's debut season. Armed with his own Mercedes contract, he had harboured hopes of moving to McLaren himself.
Instead it was the rookie who got the job, replacing compatriot Mika Hakkinen from the start of 2002 when the former champion decided he had had enough.
Heidfeld stayed at Sauber, partnered last year by Brazilian Felipe Massa and this season by veteran compatriot Heinz-Harald Frentzen in what was nicknamed Team Moenchengladbach.
"It was from quite early on that they (McLaren) were speaking with Kimi so it didn't come as a surprise to me when they signed Kimi," the 25-year-old Heidfeld told Reuters.
"But I still don't understand why they went for him over me.
"Kimi is doing a good job now, as well as he did at Sauber but we've been in the same team in the same year and I was quicker than him in qualifying and also in the race. So I think I did a good performance.
"Okay, it was his first year and my second year but still I was happy with my performance. I hope that people see that."
Raikkonen has always been under the spotlight, entering Formula One on probation after just 23 single-seater starts and with experts warning that he could cause mayhem.
Heidfeld was a better known quantity, Formula 3000 champion in 1999 and serving as a McLaren test driver before making his debut with the now-defunct Prost team in 2000.
The German believes he is every bit as good as Raikkonen, even if he has yet to have a winning car.
Asked at the British Grand Prix whether he thought Raikkonen, a winner in Malaysia in March who could become the youngest champion the sport has seen, had done anything he could not have done, Heidfeld replied: "I don't think so but how can you be sure?
"With David (Coulthard) I have been the only team mate for him in Formula One and I think I can be more sure of how I compete against him than any other driver in the paddock because we had the same cars."
Heidfeld's contract with Ferrari-powered Sauber ends this season and the Swiss team are considering their options for 2004, just as the driver is looking elsewhere.
Hockenheim, where he can count on local support even if most fans are shouting for the Schumacher brothers, gave him a sixth place last year and another points finish would help his prospects.
"Of course I can't tell you anything for next year but it's my third year now with Sauber, my contract runs out and we are speaking to several teams for next year," said Heidfeld.
"I'm still under contract to McLaren Mercedes. I can't tell you how the situation of the contract is but I regard McLaren as obviously one of the best teams around.
"From my point of view, I could go straight there but it's not my decision."
Raikkonen is well dug in at McLaren, while Massa has been talked of as a possible replacement for Brazilian Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari in the long term and for a Sauber drive next year.
Heidfeld has not had the same breaks but remains optimistic.
"I would like to be already in a top team now but I think that if I keep doing a good job I will get my chance because I am still quite young.
"I think I will get the chance."
When Heidfeld took the first podium finish of his career, in Brazil in 2001, he complained that it was getting harder to go out at home without getting recognised.
He did not crave attention but recognises now that maybe he could use a bit more.
"I try to do my talking on the track," he said.
"But I think looking back on my Formula One career right now I should have been a bit more offensive maybe, made more noise.
"But it's simply not me. Maybe it would have helped but it's not my character."