Nick Heidfeld argues that nobody will truly understand who is where in the 2009 Formula 1 pecking order until the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in three weeks' time – and he has admitted that he will be 'happy when all the guessing games come to an end in Melbourne'.
The experienced German is entering his tenth season in the top flight this year, and he knows he will need to draw upon all of the wealth of knowledge he has gleaned over that period if he is to help drive BMW-Sauber towards its ultimate ambition – that of world title glory.
Though the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit was inarguably one of the sport's leading forces in 2008 and was widely expected to take a further step forward still in 2009, the issue has been clouded somewhat by the raft of sweeping technical and aerodynamic changes introduced for the forthcoming campaign with the dual aim of cutting costs while at the same time spicing up the show. Heidfeld acknowledges that despite racking up the testing miles, it is still just too difficult to predict where anyone is.
“This year our preparations have been like a journey of discovery,” he stated. “There are so many new things about the car which all of us have had to get to grips with, and that's a lot of fun. As far as I'm concerned, the testing we've conducted so far has been very positive. The F1.09 is already driving pretty well for a completely newly-developed car, and it reacts well to changes in set-up.
“I provide as much input as I can in the development of the car. I explain to our engineers exactly how the car feels and where I'd like things improved. I'm not a development engineer, but I think my experience enables me to offer feedback which can bring the team forwards.
“We can still improve on reliability, but at no time have we been confronted by unsolvable problems and we have racked up more miles than several of our rivals. However, the restrictions on testing mean that every lost mile on the track tends to hurt. We've been able to make consistent improvements and still have a lot more ideas which we can develop.
“Unfortunately, I can't say where this puts us in comparison with our rivals – everybody keeps their cards close to their chests in testing. You never know exactly what kind of programme the other teams are running, let alone how much fuel they have on-board. I'll be happy when all the guessing games come to an end in Melbourne.”
The man from Mönchengladbach is clearly enthusiastic about the steps that have been taken by governing body the FIA to combat F1's inherent issues, and he is even positive about the impact the controversial KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology and wide front wings are likely to have, despite much scepticism within the paddock about the new initiatives.
“Firstly, I think the idea underpinning all the changes is the right one,” he contended. “After all, the aim was to make overtaking easier. I also think that the interplay of the various factors will have an effect here, if only to a certain degree – Formula 1 is not about to suddenly become like touring car racing.