In the first three races of this season most of the attention has been on the fight between Ferrari and McLaren, but while they duel for podium honours BMW Sauber is quietly closing in. The Swiss/German team has carried through its winter promise...
In the first three races of this season most of the attention has been on the fight between Ferrari and McLaren, but while they duel for podium honours BMW Sauber is quietly closing in. The Swiss/German team has carried through its winter promise and Nick Heidfeld has scored three deserved fourth places in the opening rounds.
BMW may not have expected to be on the pace of Ferrari and McLaren, and is not quite there yet, but Heidfeld's overtaking manoeuvre on world champion Fernando Alonso at Sakhir showed that the F1.07 is gaining ground. Alonso was struggling in the middle stint of the race, that much was obvious, but Heidfeld was able to keep the McLaren at bay.
"This was the strongest performance of our BMW Sauber F1 Team so far and a highlight for all of us in the new team line-up," said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen. "We not only collected eight important points, but Nick was also able to achieve a very special fourth place. For the first time, we were able to meet the speeds of the top teams over the entire distance of the race."
Heidfeld's five points were added to by teammate Robert Kubica scoring his first three points of the season in sixth. Heidfeld crossed the line half a second clear of Kubica but apparently the Pole's car was adversely affected by an open fuel flap. Nonetheless, after his troubles in Australia and Malaysia, Kubica was happy with his result.
BMW is now third in the constructors' standings and Heidfeld is seven points behind joint leaders Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. "We worked hard during the winter in Munich and in Hinwil and the reward is three fourth places and a total of 18 world championship points following three races," Theissen summed up the early season.
"This good result provides the entire team with a feeling of confidence and, at the same time, it gives us great motivation. Everyone can feel it: we have the substance and the ability to focus on the top teams now. Podium results remain our goal and we have come very close three times already."
F1 now returns to Europe to prepare for the next round, Spain in four weeks, and BMW will continue with its development programme that was put in place prior to the start of the season. "We still have quite a few options up ahead," Theissen commented. "Following three successful overseas races, we are now looking forward to our first appearance in Europe full of optimism."
One thing Heidfeld may be optimistic about is getting his contract option picked up for next year. The German's performances so far can only have increased his standing with BMW and he is impatient to get his contract renewed. However, Theissen is known to be keen on test driver Sebastian Vettel and is not in any hurry to make a decision.
For now, at least, Theissen is happy with Heidfeld and sees no reason for change but confirmation of the 2008 line-up is not likely until towards the end of this season. "We will deal with that issue as usual," the BMW chief told Autosport. "We will talk it through internally and have discussions, negotiations, come to a conclusion and then announce it."