Robert Kubica is doing as well as possible in the days following last Sunday’s horrific rally car crash. It’s still unclear how long Kubica’s recovery will take, but even the most optimistic projections have him out for at least five months, which translates to missing at least 12 races. Lotus Renault has Bruno Senna as a backup driver, but the Brazilian has never proven to be competitive in an F1 car (in his defense, he was driving for rolling chicane HRT last season). With testing scheduled to take place at Jerez, Spain this weekend, Lotus has brought in German driver Nick Heidfeld to test the new R31 F1 car.
Heidfeld began his F1 career as a test driver for McLaren in 1998. Over the years he’s raced for Prost, Sauber, Jordan, Williams, BMW Sauber and Mercedes, and has raced in F1 as recently as last season. Heidfeld holds some bizarre F1 records, including most podium finishes without a win (12), most points without a win (225) and most consecutive races without a DNF (33, from 2007 to 2009). Heidfeld has shown that he can be fast if given the proper equipment, and he’s known to be easy on cars. As a substitute driver, Heidfeld may seem like an ideal choice to Lotus Renault.
That’s not to say that Heidfeld automatically has the job. Both Heidfeld and Senna will test in Jerez, and (in theory) the seat will probably go to the fastest, most consistent driver. Communication also plays an important role, so both drivers will be evaluated on how well they work with team engineers. I’d like to see Senna get the nod, but I have a feeling that Heidfelds extensive experience will earn him one more shot at an F1 victory.