Under pressure BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld gave his chances of staying with the team for next year a further boost in Spa-Francorchamps after an impressive charge to the third step of the podium, courtesy of a well-timed switch to wet tyres.
The German driver, who has yet to have his contract renewed by BMW, impressed in qualifying on Saturday when he hoisted his F1.08 onto the third row of the grid.
For a moment it looked as though it would count for nothing though as he dropped to tenth place with a scrappy start. But after clawing his way back up to seventh thanks to a long first stint, the 31-year-old was poised to take full advantage of a switch to wet tyres as the rain fell with two laps remaining.
Closely followed by Fernando Alonso who also made the switch to wets, Heidfeld then blitzed the final laps, passing the Toro Rossos as well as his team-mate, to take his fifth podium of the year.
“I had a fantastic race weekend and I am very happy today,” revelled the German afterwards. “At the start I got off better than the guys in front of me. Then I decided to go for the outside line, but unfortunately Heikki Kovalainen crashed into my car.”
“This can happen, and I was lucky my car wasn’t damaged. Of course I lost a lot of places. Later on in the race I was able to get some back, but then I got stuck in traffic. When the drizzle set in I was convinced it would be heavier on the next lap and decided to change to wet weather tyres. The team asked me if I meant what I said.”
“When I left the pit lane after the stop I asked on the radio how many laps to go, and my engineer said this one and another one. As I couldn’t see any cars on the track I thought, oh this was probably the wrong decision, but then it paid off. It was a Hero or Zero decision.”
Robert Kubica, undoubtedly the star of 2008 with multiple podiums and a win in Canada, struggled with the handling of his BMW all weekend but managed to muster sixth place, despite staying out on the dry tyres in the final laps. But the Polish sensation was far from happy with the end result.
“I am not happy with the result, as today I had the chance to finish on the podium,” rued the Pole. “We had a problem during the second pit stop. I lost two or three positions and returned to the track behind Nick.”
“When it started raining he went into the pits to change tyres. I could not do the same as it would have cost too much time because I was directly behind Nick, so it would have meant us coming into the pits together.”
“Also I had no information about the weather as I had problems with my radio. We gave away points today. However, that’s racing.”
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen was just happy to see his cars finish after such a chaotic grand prix: “It was a turbulent race – both immediately after the start and during the final laps,” said the German. “Nick was involved in a collision in turn 1 after the turmoil at the start and, like Robert, lost some positions.”
“As a result, both cars dropped out of the points’ positions. After that the pit crew had problems connecting the nozzle during Robert’s second pit stop.”
“Finally we recovered from these problems. Nick, his race engineer and our strategists took the right decision two laps before the end of the race by changing to wet weather tyres. The team’s ninth podium and Robert’s sixth place scored us nine points. With five races to go the team has 105 points, four more than in the entire 2007 season.”
Technical director Willy Rampf added: “This was the most amazing race I have ever experienced. Up until two laps from the end everything was quite normal, but then things changed dramatically when it started raining. Nick radioed to the pits that he wanted to change tyres. He was the first driver to take this decision.”
“The pit crew reacted quickly, and from then on he was the fastest man on the track and made up many places. He finally finished third. For Robert things, unfortunately, went wrong during the second pit stop when we had a problem when refuelling, which cost him several positions. However, overall it was a very good result for our team. We scored another podium finish and a total of nine points today.”