Bridgestone don't call their wet weather Formula 1 tyres 'extreme' wets for nothing, and Nick Heidfeld used the same word to describe this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, which ended under red flag conditions as the rain lashed down – and which delivered him his first rostrum finish in seven outings.
Heidfeld has a knack of shining when the chips are down and the odds are stacked against him – Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps last year spring most prominently to mind – and he certainly had to draw upon all of his guile and experience in Sepang, starting as he was with a fuel-laden car and from down in tenth spot on the grid.
A combination of a canny strategy and solid pace, however, saw the German running up inside the top six by half-distance, and despite a brief off-piste moment – that allowed both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton past – and being out on the right tyres at the wrong moment, he kept it together as a number of his competitors did not to be sitting in second place when the action was suspended. Even if he did go for another little spin under the safety car...
“I'm obviously very happy to be second after starting from tenth,” the 31-year-old enthused. “It was a really extreme and challenging race today. I had a good start but also quite a heavy car, which meant racing was not easy for me.
“When it was obvious it would rain soon I pitted seven laps earlier than planned, and we decided to go on full rain tyres. They wore down quickly because the heavy rain didn't come. The team kept telling me 'stay out, heavy rain expected', but the tyres felt almost like slicks. For those laps intermediates would have been much quicker, but who could know that?
“When it finally poured down it was the right decision to stop the race. It was absolutely impossible to drive. I spun behind the safety car, not only because of aquaplaning with the tyres but also with the underfloor. I'm happy for our team that we can now bring home at least one proper result from the first two races of the season.”
Indeed, it could have been back-to-back podiums for BMW-Sauber had Robert Kubica not come together so expensively with Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel as the pair duelled over the runner-up laurels in the closing laps of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne seven days ago. The Pole would prove out of luck again in Kuala Lumpur, as after reporting 'strange noises' from the engine on his way around to the grid, he subsequently struggled to get away at the start and was forced to park his poorly F1.09 shortly afterwards, with fire licking the sidepods.
“When I started on the formation lap, my engine produced strange noises and there was very little power,” the man from Kraków related. “I started the race, which under the circumstances was not easy, and continued to drive. I asked my team what I should do, but before I got an answer the car caught fire and I stopped.”
The result does, at least, mean the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit is off the mark in 2009 – and despite only half points having been awarded, the squad still sits ahead of expected chief rivals McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari in the F1 Constructors' World Championship. It was, affirmed Dr Mario Theissen, a satisfying end to an initially unpromising weekend.