Nick Heidfeld sent a stark reminder to his BMW employees that he is still every bit a threat to the front-runners after planting his car on the third row of the grid in Spa, keeping McLaren firmly in his sights.
The under pressure BMW Sauber driver has yet to have his contract renewed by the Hinwil and Munich based outfit, while team mate Robert Kubica has reportedly inked a one year deal to stay with the team.
But that didn’t stop Heidfeld notching up one of his best qualifying results of the year: he lapped the sweeping Spa circuit fifth quickest, only a few tenths shy of fourth place man Heikki Kovalainen.
It is only the second time this year that the Heidfeld has out-qualified his team mate, but it couldn’t have come at a more significant time as the teams look to finalise their drivers for next year.
“I’m happy with the qualifying result, and for me the weekend has gone well so far,” he reflected. “It wasn’t bad on Friday, this morning I was quickest and fifth was the best possible result in qualifying.
“For me it is very important to know the work we have done has paid off. A couple of weeks ago we found solutions to some problems, and for me this meant an improvement, but then came the race in Valencia which was surprisingly bad.”
“Then at last week’s Monza test we were able to learn something more. I have the feeling we are a little closer to McLaren and Ferrari here. However, I think in the race it will be very difficult for us to keep up with their pace.”
Robert Kubica in contrast had one of his worst performance of the year, his eighth place underlining his comparative success. The Pole has struggled with the handling of the F1.08 all weekend, and the changeable track conditions have hampered his efforts to dial in the car.
“Qualifying was difficult for me although the conditions were the best so far over the course of the weekend,” he rued. “The track was completely dry, but I have had problems with the balance of the car all weekend and I am lacking overall grip. This makes driving quite difficult, especially here in Spa where you have a lot of long corners.”
BMW Sauber’s team chiefs were generally satisfied with the result but are hoping to unleash the full potential of the F1.08 in Sunday’s race.
“I’m satisfied with today’s performance,” said BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. “We obviously didn’t have the right basic set-up yesterday, and, with the changing weather conditions, it was not easy to get it right. However, we saw this morning we were able to make a significant step forward.”
“Nick confirmed this in qualifying with both low and high fuel loads. He is now in a strong position for the race. For Robert things were just not right this weekend, and in qualifying he wasn’t able to put in a perfect lap.”
BMW Sauber’s technical director Willy Rampf added: “Although we struggled yesterday to find the right set-up, today we managed to get both cars safely into Q3. Nick in particular has made a big step forward since yesterday and he was very strong in qualifying.”
“Robert struggled with the car’s set-up in all the practice sessions, and sector 2 was particularly difficult for him. I think we are well prepared for the race. Now we have to see what the other teams’ strategies are.”