The beleaguered BMW Sauber team believes that it can bring itself back into contention for points at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix following a tough start to the 2009 Formula One campaign.
Although Robert Kubica appeared headed for a podium in Melbourne, and Nick Heidfeld managed to grab one in the shortened Malaysian GP, few would claim that 2009 has thus far been a success for the Hinwil-Munich operation, which had targeted a world title shot for its fourth season under the BMW banner. Instead, Kubica and Heidfeld have found themselves qualifying outside the top ten - indeed, outside the top 15 on occasion - while points have been tough to come by, with only the German's four from the truncated Sepang outing on the board so far.
While that leaves BMW Sauber sixth overall in the constructors' championship after four 'flyaway' rounds - and still ahead of Ferrari, amongst others - the return to European circuits provides the first real opportunity to introduce updates to the F1.09 which has proven so difficult to set up until now.
As with most of its rivals, the team will bring a raft of updates to Barcelona, although a bespoke double-deck diffuser is not necessarily among them, as it attempts to bridge the gap to the likes of Brawn, Toyota and Red Bull. Whether they will have the desired effect remains to be seen, however, with the testing ban leaving a lot resting on BMW Sauber's ability to closely simulate conditions the developments will face.
"We will be lining up in Barcelona with an extensive development package for the F1.09, which we have put together for the start of the European season," head of engineering Willy Rampf confirmed, "The nose section, more deeply undercut sidepods and the rear wing are all totally new while, added to which, modifications have also been made to the front wing, engine cover and underbody. We expect these improvements to significantly reduce our lap times.
"Of course, we know that the other teams will also have made modifications to their cars for Barcelona. However, we expect to be able to close the gap to our rivals. We won't find this out for certain, though, until the race weekend. Up to then, we will only have the results from the wind tunnel and simulations to go on and, of course, can no longer test in advance on the track. Seeing the full potential of the car reflected in results on the track will be a big challenge for the engineers."
Although the Circuit de Catalunya is extremely well-known to the team from the amount of testing they will have carried out there in the past, data - even from pre-season with the 2009-spec cars - can easily be rendered useless as conditions change so rapidly. Despite that, team principal Mario Theissen echoes Rampf's claim that the margin to the front of the field could - and should - be reduced.
"After our positive winter testing, all of us envisaged a rather different start to the season, but the car is not fast enough and we have recorded only one podium finish," Theissen noted, "However, we are approaching this challenge in a positive way and are working intensively in Munich and Hinwil to get back to our old form. We will be lining up in Barcelona with an extensive aerodynamics-focused development package, and are already working on further upgrades to be introduced later on in the season.
"The Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona signals the start of the European season after four races overseas, and traditionally represents something of a second start to the season. For our team, this applies more so than usual this year, as we cannot be satisfied at all with the first four races."