When Sebastian Vettel made his Formula 1 debut in Indianapolis in 2007 as a replacement for the injured Robert Kubica, nobody knew what a brilliant career the Heppenheimer would later have. His teammate Nick Heidfeld at the time was also not completely convinced. He admits: “I never thought that he would win several world titles.”
However, this impression was not created by the one race for BMW-Sauber, but by previously mixed results during test drives. “He tested a lot for BMW and drove a lot on Friday,” says Heidfeld in the podcast ‘Beyond the Grid’. “Of course it was all okay, but BMW didn’t put it [für Rennen] into the car. That shows that they weren’t 100 percent convinced either. ”
Vettel was always perfectly fine on a human level: “Everyone liked him,” recalls Heidfeld and says that he, as a person, also likes his compatriot very well. “You can have a lot of fun with it.” He believes that BMW Vettel would have liked to have got into the car at the time. “But the results didn’t look good.”
The then team boss Mario Theissen recently revealed in the Starting Grid podcast that BMW-Sauber was on the way to the top and didn’t want to take any chances with a young driver. Instead, they continued to rely on the pairing Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.
Vettel was only allowed to run in one race: the 2007 US Grand Prix after Kubica was injured in his serious accident in Canada. The German scored a point in his first race and amazed Heidfeld.
Only one curve was bad
“In qualifying there was only one corner where he didn’t find a good line. So I took several tenths off him. Apart from that, we were more or less the same speed – and that was in his first race,” he recalls.
Vettel’s weak point was curve 2, a left curve. There he never drove over the actually flat curb, although you had to do it for a quick time. “He wasn’t aggressive enough. I don’t know why he didn’t get it. It is certainly due to the experience,” said Heidfeld. “The next year he would have done better.”
But Formula 1 has not yet returned to Indianapolis. And Vettel left BMW-Sauber a little later to Toro Rosso before moving up to Red Bull and becoming world champion four times. Since moving to Ferrari, however, he has not succeeded in winning another world title.
Vettel weak? Rather Leclerc fantastic!
For Heidfeld, this is mainly due to too many mistakes that Vettel made. “You didn’t see it that way in your World Championship years,” he says. In addition, his new teammate Charles Leclerc put him under a lot of pressure. The Monegasse was able to score more points in its first Ferrari year and also win more races.
Heidfeld does not see that he dominated Vettel: “It wasn’t that Leclerc always beat him. And in my opinion Vettel even had the upper hand in the races,” he judges.
In addition, he would not see any weakness of his compatriot. Rather, Leclerc is simply a “fantastic driver”. But because nobody had him on the list before the season, many would conclude that Vettel is not a good driver. “But in a few years, Leclerc may also be world champion or beat every other team-mate,” said Heidfeld. “That would put it back in proportion.”