Ross Brawn, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2013

Mercedes originally favoured Heidfeld for Hamilton’s seat

2013 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

Nick Heidfeld was originally favoured by Mercedes to take the seat Lewis Hamilton now occupies, according to one of the players in the contract talks to prise Hamilton away from McLaren six years ago.

The team hired Hamilton as the replacement for Michael Schumacher in 2013. Since joining the team he has won four world championships and is on course to add a fifth this year.

However according to former Mercedes CEO Nick Fry the team’s upper management initially preferred Heidfeld for the seat during negotiations in 2012. Heidfeld, a veteran of 183 grands prix, had split from Renault mid-way through the previous season.

Fry said he initiated discussions with Hamilton’s then-manager Simon Fuller during mid-2011. Talks between the pair about bringing Hamilton to the team began the following summer.

But according to Fry, senior staff at Mercedes were lukewarm at first about the idea of Hamilton driving their car.

“Initially I couldn’t get Mercedes on board with hiring Lewis,” he wrote in his forthcoming book ‘Survive. Drive. Win.’.

“More than once we were sent back to come up with other ideas. For whatever reason, we were told to look at people like Nick Heidfeld again, who was super-keen to get the seat, and repeatedly text me with photos of himself, his family and his dog in a futile bid to pique my interest.”

Nick Heidfeld, Renault, Circuit de Catalunya, 2011
Heidfeld bowed out of F1 in 2011
According to Fry the team also considered Paul di Resta for the seat and Jacques Villeneuve offered his services, despite having fallen out with the team eight years previously, when it branded British American Racing.

The arrival of Niki Lauda as non-executive chairman provided the catalyst to bring Hamilton to the team. Fry said Lauda told him on his first day working for the team in September 2012 to “go and do it and I will ask Mercedes for forgiveness later”.

Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was announced on September 28th.

“Survive. Drive. Win.” by Nick Fry and Ed Gorman will be published by Atlantic Books on October 3rd.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2019 F1 season

Browse all 2019 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

138 comments on “Mercedes originally favoured Heidfeld for Hamilton’s seat”

  1. repeatedly text me with photos of himself

    It wasn’t just photos, either.

    1. @ninjenius
      Well that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve seen all week!

    2. @ninjenius

      Hahaha.. That’s awesome. I would have never guessed that Nick was a raver at heart… he never seemed to give the impression when he was in the paddock. His stock just went in my books.

    3. @ninjenius
      I’m literally crying.. hahahahahahahaha. wasnt expecting that. thanks for making my morning.

  2. Lauda told him on his first day working for the team in September 2012 to “go and do it and I will ask Mercedes for forgiveness later”.

    You gotta love Niki. He’s definitely missed.

    1. @eurobrun – yep, came to the comments to say just that. It just sounds so much like Niki :)

  3. It’s almost bizarre to think that Mercedes were going to get Heidfeld on board. I really liked Heidfeld.. strong, consistent driver who never got his big break… but at no point in time did I rate his higher than Lewis. Heidfeld would have been a good option for Rosberg’s seat but definitely not Lewis’.

    1. Heidfeld sucked big time.

    2. imagine a parallel universe where we don’t have the Lewis-Nico years, what a disappointment. Heidfeld would have been destroyed by Lewis

      1. Considering how close Nico and Lewis were, he probably would’ve been destroyed by Rosberg too.

        1. Close? Hamilton won 2 to 3 races for every one Rosberg won. For all races where both drivers didn’t have technical issues.

          1. That’s why it’s CLOSE and not equal.

          2. @miani True, if you feel 25% is “close” to 75%, but then your definition of “close” differs wildly from mine. Or I would think most people

          3. WDC 2016. That’s what you can get from actually being close.

          4. 42 x 34 in qualifyings and 39 x 27 in races. That’s far from 25/75%. It’s 56/44% and 60/40%. That’s what I call CLOSE.

          5. @miani You are not taking into account what the technical issues did. But I get were you are (wrongly) coming from yes. You look plainly at the scorecard.

          6. @magon4 No that’s what you get when the better driver has 6 races influenced by technical issues and the other has none. That’s not “close” that’s “luck” (good or bad)

          7. Technical issues 1. Monza blowup whilst leading. 2 abu dhabi ers failure 3. Singapore steering wheel failure 4. Gearbox failure at Silverstone….Off top of my head thats 4 technical failures for Rosberg where Hamilton had no issues in same race… I bet theres more thats just a part of f1. Thats why it sounds so stupid when HAM fans cry bad luck etc…. Its same for everyone but you only see it when it happens to Lewis. Heck Malaysia 2016 Vettel torpedoed Rosberg to dead last on 1st corner…… But oh poor Lewis!!

            That’s why people laugh at the HAM ‘victim’ or ‘bad luck’ stories, & between him and his fans boy do we get hit with them nonstop lol.

    3. Heidfeld would have been a LOT cheaper, and good enough to win a WDC in that car or atleast back up Nico.

      1. Drop Sochi, equally, for all the hype that was built up around Kubica whilst he was at BMW-Sauber, when you look at it, Heidfeld arguably actually had the better record of the two whilst he was there – and if Kubica was considered to be fit for a top team, why not Heidfeld?

    4. I guess their thinking was that Rosberg would do the winning and Heidfeld be the solid wingman @todfod. Given the car they brought, we might have had Rosberg as a 4-5 time champion!

      1. @bascb

        Probably.. but I’m surprised that Mercedes would keep the bar so low on their driver line up – Rosberg as #1 and Heidfeld as #2 is a strong line up for a midfield team .. not a team aspiring to be a front runner.

        Given the car they brought, we might have had Rosberg as a 4-5 time champion!

        Still doubt Rosberg would have won so many championships.. Maybe Vettel and Heidfeld would nick one or two off him.

        1. @todfod Rosberg crushed Schumacher though. For three seasons. So they might have thought more highly of Rosberg than you think.

          Heidfeld is a solid driver. He pretty much destroyed Kubica over their seasons together. Apart from that one season when the BWM car was actually good. So yeah that looked bad, but for people looking at the total picture, Heidfeld looked pretty good.

          What Hamilton did in 2018 was bizarre. I truly doubt any other driver currently in F1 could have done that. Ferrari had the faster car for most of the races and Hamilton just destroyed them and then mostly Vettel. People rate Verstappen, but Hamilton just kept the pressure on for the whole season and was almost faultless. We are yet to see if Verstappen could do something even remotely at that level. Races like Brazil 2018 and Spa 2019 would indicate otherwise. Monza was poor too (running into the back of the pack at the start).

          2017 Hamilton also helped Vettel crack under pressure.

          So I agree I doubt that Rosberg or Heidfeld would have won 2017 or 2018. 2019 perhaps. Or who knows Mercedes would have had enough by now then.

          1. What Hamilton did in 2018 was bizarre. I truly doubt any other driver currently in F1 could have done that. Ferrari had the faster car for most of the races and Hamilton just destroyed them

            No they didn’t. Just as they didn’t at Spa and Monza just gone.

            If Hamilton was that good, he wouldn’t have let Alonso beat him regularly in the 3rd rate Ferrari. One lucky title in 6 seasons at top team. Verstappen has beaten him in the slower Red Bull several times now.

          2. @f1osaurus

            He pretty much destroyed Kubica over their seasons together.

            Can’t agree with you there. Sometimes the points total doesn’t tell the whole story. I thought Heidfeld was more consistent and kept Kubica honest, but Kubica had moments of brilliance and an overall pace edge that Heidfeld just didn’t have.

          3. @todfod I’m not talking about points. Indeed Kubica had moments of brilliance, but only when he felt like it. Heidfeld always performed well.

            The end result was that Heidfeld was in front of Kubica more often than the other way around.

      2. @bascb @todfod I reckon what would have likely happened is that Hamilton signs a new 2-year contract with McLaren, while Mercedes would have kept a Rosberg-Heidfeld partnership for 2013 and possibly 2014, with Rosberg winning the 2014 championship. However, Mercedes have concerns about if Ferrari with Alonso, McLaren-Honda with Hamilton or Red Bull with Vettel and Ricciardo could topple them for 2015 and beyond, and decide to sign one of Vettel, Hamilton or Alonso, all of whom are unhappy at their respective teams. I think the most probable will probably end with Hamilton deciding to wait and see how Honda turns out, Alonso moving to Mercedes, and Vettel moving to Ferrari. Hamilton, unhappy at McLaren-Honda, pushes hard for a Red Bull seat for 2016, but Horner and Marko are looking to promote this young gun known as Verstappen and choose to reject his advances.

        1. The way things had turned out at Mclaren, I believe Hamilton would rather have sat out a year than go back there.

      3. Which is exactly why I rate Vettel as the “worst” of the multi-time F1 champs and below many one time champs including Rosberg (who cracked less under pressure).

        1. You would be wrong.

          1. @magon4
            Maybe Hakinnen is at the same level… among the two worst multiple F1 champs.

          2. @todfod just out of curiosity: since when have you been watching the races?
            and: how do you rate michael schumacher?

          3. @magon4

            I’ve probably missed watching a dozen or so races in past 23 years.

            and: how do you rate michael schumacher?

            Highly. He took the battle with Hakinnen, in a far superior McLaren, down to the wire in 98 and most of 99 (when he didn’t have a leg injury). Schumi finally beat him in to retirement in 2000. Hakkinnen was flattered by his machinery, the same way Vettel was in the Red Bull.

            Sorry.. do you have a point you were trying to make?

          4. no, I was just interested, actually. I think we cover a similar era, I’ve been watching since 1989, and very regularly since 1994, missing the same amount you have over those years. @todfod
            I do disagree with you about both Hakkinen and Vettel, whom I probably rate higher. Would love to argue it with you, also based on their career paths and real strength of their winning cars; peer evaluation shouldn’t be disregarded completely, too…

          5. @magon4

            I’m not saying they are bad drivers. I’m comparing them to an elite league – Multiple world champions. This weeds out single champs like Villeneuve, Hill, Hunt, Button etc. Although I don’t know much about the calibre of F1 champs before the mid 1960s, since then, the multiple world champions have all been really solid drivers. If I had to pick a bottom two, I’d have to pick Hakkinen and Vettel.

          6. @todfod got it.
            I still hope for some Vettel redemption in the next years, as I believe there are reasons for his many errors (his pace has mostly been pretty good, even in Monza).

            Emerson might make that list, too, maybe even Nelson. And as legendary as Niki Lauda was, he was rarely really fast.

            But I agree that Vettel and Hakkinen are in that group.
            Alonso is not much above them, though… ;)

          7. @magon4

            If I had to pick a bottom three it would probable include Piquet with Fittipaldi as close 4th.

            Alonso is not much above them, though… ;)

            I’m probably biased, but I would rate Alonso just a few notches lower than Hamilton in the multiple WDC winners list. That’s an argument for another time though.. ;)

          8. @todfod I think you are underrating Button though. He really was much better than people give him credit. The reason he won 6 out of the first 7 races of 2009 was not “just because he had the fastest car”. Barrichello had the same car and Vettel’s car was for at least half of those races just as fast, but Button kept his car on the road and out of other cars as opposed to Vettel.

            Keeping that consistency while under pressure like that is no mean feat.

          9. @f1osaurus

            Don’t know man. He was outperformed by Rubens Barrichello for the entire second half of the 2009 season. His lack of versatility in a car that doesn’t perfectly suit his needs was apparent for the last 9 races. He took only one or two podiums in the last 10 races of the season IIRC… in a car that should have been at least fighting for the podium on every race weekend. He was brilliant in the first half of the season and below mediocre for the second half.

          10. @todfod Sorry, but you really have got that all wrong.

            Perhaps Barrichello scored more points in the second half, but Button finished 5 times ahead and Barrichello only 4. They were very closely matched. While Button was playing it safe to bring home his points advantage (which he did!).

            Barrichello also only took 3 podiums! So the car was a lot worse for that second half than you seem to remember.

            They had the car advantage over all teams besides Red Bull for the first 7 races, but they had no budget to develop the car and after that, Red Bull, McLaren and even Ferrari were ahead of them.

            They scored one more 1-2 at Monza, but other than that, they would generally finish around 5 til 7th place. Both drivers!

            Button won that season mostly because Vettel was crashing away his chances, but still Button scored almost perfectly in every race. He could have done better in Valencia since Barrichello won that race, but indeed he had a bad start. Other than that he did the best he realistically could with that car.

            It’s like 2018 where Hamilton really only won because Vettel threw it all away, but still Hamitlon drover pretty much faultless to take the title away from a driver in an overall faster car.

        2. Vettel held off the faster McLarens at Abu Dhabi in 2010 to win the title.

          1. @bigjoe

            Because it was impossible to overtake on that circuit on that day. I don’t see how that changes anything… with the car advantage he had, he shouldn’t have even taken it to the last race. An Alonso or Hamilton would have wrapped up that title with at least 3 races to spare.

          2. @todfod even if the car was as superior as you seem to make it (and with that, rating Webber pretty poorly), you have to take his age into account. That 2010 season wasn’t bad at all from Seb’s, and frankly, anyone’s point of view. Wouldn’t have rated him the best of the pack that season, but one year later, he was the best, and by some margin.

          3. @magon4

            2011 was a solid season for Seb, as was 2013. But 2010… I didn’t think he was as strong as some of his competitors. He made a lot of errors and was being out done by Webber on many weekends.

          4. @magon4

            Interesting that Seb did pretty much as good as job in his dominant car than Hamilton did, yet he is slated so much.
            Mansell did better than both in his dominant car. Hamilton has had off periods in every season he has competed.

          5. @bigjoe

            He did in 2011 and 2013. But not so much in 2010 and 2012. The true difference in class between Hamilton and Vettel is visible in seasons when they didn’t have championship winning cars.

          6. @todfod
            yes that’s true.

            But Hamilton fans refuse to give Leclerc and Verstappen the same credit that he got back then.
            They are not in championship winning teams either. Mercedes are the best team by far and the car is awesome on Mediums in the race. Leclerc helf Lewis off brilliantly in 2 races in a row. The real deal.

          7. @todfod much more than solid. Those were excepcional wins.

            And both Webber + Kimi I rate highly, and they didn’t have a consistent run at Sebastian. One really needs to take that into account.

            2009: Seb 206 x 174 Mark
            2010: Seb 256 x 242 Mark
            2011: Seb 392 x 258 Mark
            2012: Seb 281 x 179 Mark
            2013: Seb 397 x 199 Mark

            TOTAL: Seb 1532 x 1052 Mark
            AVG RBR: Seb 306 x 210 Mark
            Mark 69% of Sebs points

            2015: Seb 278 x 150 Kimi
            2016: Seb 212 x 186 Kimi
            2017: Seb 317 x 205 Kimi
            2018: Seb 320 x 251 Kimi

            TOTAL: Seb 1127 x 792 Kimi
            AVG FER: Seb 282 x 198 Kimi
            Kimi 70% of Sebs points

            Interesting that Seb scored more points with Ferrari in 4 years than Mark Webber at RBR in five – that should give us some indication that the RBR wasn’t as superior as some make it sound. And that the Mercedes had a much bigger advantage in 2014-2017 is, in my view, out of question.

            In total, Seb has scored 3088 points since the 2008 season (using the current point system) against 2277 points of all his team mates (Bourdais, Webber, Ricciardo, Raikkonen & Leclerc).

            I would compare the quality of his team mates to a Jenson Button (who is at a Raikkonen level) or a Nico Rosberg (Webber level).

            So I do admit Seb is at least a step below Lewis careerwise (wouldn’t have said that before 2017), and has even slipped behind Fernando. But he could still turn this around, and he has had a much more than good career, in any measure.

          8. @bigjoe
            If one does a season to season comparison between the two, it was pretty tight until recently.
            And @todfod, Hamilton has rarely been in a car which had no shot at the title.
            The first year this happened was, argueably, 2013. Maybe the only year.
            If you look at the other seasons, even 2011 and 2013, he was in the fight until the summer.
            And I am convinced McLaren actually had the better car in 2012.

    5. They could have hired Heidfeld and still won every championship since 2014 – simply a fact. To be honest, they could have put Max Chilton in the car and still won every championship. Thinking about it, they could have put my 5 year old daughter in the car and still won every championship.

      Has there ever been a driver less important than a Mercedes driver in winning a world drivers championship?

      1. @Ferrari had the fastest car in 2018…so unless you think Vettel is so poor, Nick wasn’t winning 2018. And 2-017 the Ferrari was too far off the Merc, so again, i doubt a near 40yr ol Nick would beat Vettel.

        AMuS: Ferrari quickest on 11 tracks, Merc 10 (2018).

        The fact that Bottas finished behind Vettel in both 2017 & 2018, show that it needs more than a middle tier driver to win in the Mercs 2017 & 2018

        1. Edit * And 2017, the Ferrari wasn’t too far off the Merc…

          1. @amam

            Mercedes were the best team by far in 2017 and 2018. Stop spreading lies.

        2. @amam Actually AMuS claims Ferrari was fastest in 11 races vs 9 for Mercedes.

          And then AMuS is wrong too. They only looked at quali pace. When race pace is just as important if not more.

          If they consider USA a draw then clearly France was a draw too. As was Japan. Vettel simply messed up in France and the whole of Ferrari messed up in Japan., but especially Vettel (spins in Q3 and crash during race)

          USA wasn’t a draw though. Perhaps in quali they were equal, but Ferrari was much easier on the tyres and thus faster in the race.

          In Austria Mercedes didn’t even finish. So how is Mercedes fastest? It just makes no sense.

          Singapore, Ferrari was fastest all weekend (and Red Bull was faster too), but Ferrari royally messed up in quali. Fastest car nonetheless.

          So in Braz