Nico Rosberg has hinted that Williams' strong early-season form in the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship could be all-but over, after confessing that he was 'lucky' to make it through into the top ten shoot-out in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.
Indeed, though he may have led the way in FP2 – the seventh occasion on which the young German has topped the practice times in twelve sessions so far this campaign – Rosberg barely scraped his way through both Q1 and Q2 in Sakhir, scene of his grand prix debut back in 2006, when he had marked his arrival in the top flight by sensationally setting the fastest lap on his maiden appearance.
From there, despite benefitting from new aerodynamic updates, the inaugural GP2 Series Champion failed to figure in the fight for the leading grid positions and would ultimately wind up just ninth – his lowest starting spot of the season, albeit, he contends, with a healthy fuel level on-board his FW31.
“That was not a good qualifying from me,” the 23-year-old reflected, “as I really didn't feel comfortable in the car today. We were just lucky we made it through to the third round because it was very close. In the end, P9 is okay because we have a lot of fuel on-board, so strategy-wise I think we are looking pretty competitive.
“My hope for tomorrow is definitely to finish in the points, and I think that's achievable. Our race car is pretty good, so we should have a consistent pace and everything is possible from ninth.”
On a blisteringly hot day in the desert kingdom, team-mate Kazuki Nakajima in the sister Williams just missed the Q3 cut for the fourth consecutive race, failing to make the grade by one-and-a-half tenths and consequently taking the starting lights from twelfth place.
“It's difficult to say where I lost my time,” the Japanese ace reckoned. “I didn't make any mistakes and the car was performing pretty well. If I think about the gap separating Nico and me, I'm pleased with my afternoon. Overall, though, I have mixed feelings as I should have made it into Q3.”
With Williams one of only three teams – in company with Bahrain front row-sitters Toyota and Shanghai victors Red Bull Racing – to have begun the season with a 'double-decker' diffuser, it is well aware that just 3.5 points on the board three races in is far from acceptable, particularly given the results its two similarly-equipped rivals have been achieving.
With the 'non-diffuser' teams rapidly developing their own split-level versions now following the FIA Court of Appeal's ruling earlier this month, the multiple world championship-winning concern knows time is running out if it is not to be sucked up and spat out by the swiftly advancing midfield pack.
“This result is where we expected to be,” admitted the Grove-based outfit's technical director Sam Michael. “Ninth is a good position from where Nico can target a points-scoring finish tomorrow, and Kazuki did a good job considering he doesn't have the same package that Nico is running. He also equalled his season-best qualifying position today. In conclusion, we will be aiming for points with both cars. Congratulations to Toyota for taking the front row.”