Nick Heidfeld's 2009 season-opener was something of a non-event, with an underwhelming qualifying result and a race ruined by the first corner tangle.
He hopes to do better in Malaysia - but isn't sure if being the only BMW driver with KERS will help him much this weekend either. AUTOSPORT heard his thoughts as preparations got underway at Sepang
Q: What did you make of the speed of the Brawns in Australia and your pace relative to them?
Nick Heidfeld: It was pretty obvious that they have the quickest car, unfortunately for everybody it was the same as in testing. Most of us hoped that somehow, miraculously, by race one they would be slower. They are leading the pack and I expect them to be the strongest team here again.
This year we see the fuel loads after qualifying and you can calculate properly what pace each car has and it shows that we are in an OK position, but still, at least in qualifying, not the strongest car after Brawn. There are a couple of teams pretty close together that in the race were penalised like Toyota starting from the back, Nico (Rosberg) being on the wrong tyres. We are in the pack behind Brawn but in Melbourne we were not leading that.
Then again in the last couple of years we have seen that Melbourne doesn't always give us the best picture and I hope that here we will look even stronger than was the case in Melbourne. After testing that was what I had hoped for and what I expected. I was surprised by the pace of Williams in Melbourne and I thought that we were similar, or a little quicker, than Toyota, but that was not the case in Melbourne. Let's see on a normal track.
Q: How much benefit is there from KERS?
NH: Exactly as you just mentioned. The fact that I use it and Robert (Kubica) doesn't means that there is no huge difference. I am lighter than Robert which pushes it over the edge for me to run and him not to run, or at least that's what we think after analysing the data we have. We're still learning about it and that was the very first weekend to have it on a race weekend and we are still in the position of finding if we run it here or not.
Q: You used it every lap?
NH: I took it in each lap. The biggest benefit clearly was in qualifying with the other guys. The grip level in Melbourne was not really good and different than I expected and that doesn't help KERS. You need good grip and good balance to make it work properly.
Then in the race, as was mentioned by some other people not having KERS, it made it very difficult for the other guys to overtake. I had a car that was heavily damaged and pretty slow, and had a couple of cars behind me that were clearly quicker, but whenever they had a clearly better corner exit and could have been in a position to overtake, I boosted and they couldn't. That was the biggest difference. Unfortunately that happened when I was down in 12th place!
Q: Malaysia has long straights, will KERS help you at the start?
NH: Here we have one of the longest straights before Turn 1 so it should be a better help on the start. The fact that we have longer straights here doesn't make a big impact to the difference in laptime and the difference in KERS or not. The difference from Melbourne to here is pretty small - smaller than I would have hoped for. I thought we would come to this circuit with long straights and KERS would be a huge benefit, but it's not much different to Melbourne.
Q: How do you use KERS in qualifying?
NH: I'm not allowed to tell you exactly where I boost, but that is obviously an extra help in qualifying is that you have the extra time you can boost before the start/finish line. We will boost out of the last corner and try to get as much out or it as possible. Then you start the lap again with 100 per cent full boost.
Q: With things like KERS, adjustable wings and the option tyre situation is driver intelligence even more important this year?
NH: No, I don't think so. You always have to look after your tyres and always had to keep strategy in mind and watch where your pace is compared to the others. In Melbourne it was more having luck or no luck with the tyres. You had to drive the soft tyres and it was obvious that they were slower.
In the beginning it looked like the guys on the softer tyres were in deep trouble, but then the safety car came and they took the right decision. That was not being clever or not. OK, you could still try to predict it because it has happened in the last couple of years but it's more about being lucky or not.
Now gathering more information, we try to get on top of that. People were surprised that the soft tyres did not hold on better as people pitted earlier than they needed to with their fuel levels.
Nick Heidfeld's 2009 season-opener was something of a non-event, with an underwhelming qualifying result and a race ruined by the first corner tangle. He hopes to do better in Malaysia - but isn't sure if being the only BMW driver with KERS will help him much this weekend either. AUTOSPORT heard his thoughts as preparations got underway at Sepang Q: What did you make of the speed of the Brawns in Australia and your pace relative to them