Past Sauber driver Heidfeld laments its ongoing driver contract drama

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MIAMI – Nick Heidfeld will be seeking to break out of a tough four-race period to open the FIA Formula E Championship this weekend in Miami with Venturi.

But the German has kept an eye on what’s happening on the other side of the world, as the team with which Heidfeld spent the majority of his Formula 1 career, Sauber, is embroiled in the driver contract saga involving three drivers and two race seats.

The 1999 F3000 champion raced for Sauber three different times. He was full-time from 2001 to 2003 as Sauber, returned in 2006 when BMW took over the team as BMW Sauber through 2009, and took over for the final five races of the 2010 season when BMW departed, but Sauber retained its place on the grid.

Heidfeld said he understands both sides of the argument, but explained that drivers need to be treated correctly.

“Yeah I followed it the last couple days, because unfortunately it’s been the most exciting part of Formula 1 the last couple days although it’s a new season coming,” Heidfeld only half-jokingly told MotorSportsTalk ahead of this weekend’s Miami ePrix.

“I’m still quite attached to Sauber, as I spent the majority of my F1 career there.

“But on the other side you cannot have four or five (drivers), or let’s say you cannot have more than two contracts with drivers to do the season. I also have to think from the driver’s perspective, and sometimes drivers are not treated the way they should be.”

Giedo van der Garde, who was Sauber’s reserve driver last year, has won his legal case to be able to drive in this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix. But without an FIA Superlicense, he lacks the correct credentials to do so (more here from my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith).

As for his day job, Heidfeld is set for the reminder of the FE season with Venturi, and looks to dovetail that with selected sports car races. He did not confirm a team in sports cars; he has raced the last three seasons full-time with Rebellion Racing.

Heading into this weekend, he dismissed his tough starta near miss-win at China and a disqualification at Malaysia got things off to a rough start – and seeks a better weekend on the streets of Miami.

“Firstly I always like to think of things not in terms of bad luck, but then analyze things and see how I can improve and not get stuck in a bad situation,” Heidfeld said. “Sometimes you come to the conclusion where you cannot change anything. It’s not easy.

“The main thing is to focus on the next important thing, not the past, but the future. You have to do the best at the next race and not get your mind changed too much. I don’t like to think about bad luck. My normal approach I learned over the years is to keep calm and try improving.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.