Following BMW-Sauber's distinctly torrid and trying start to the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship, both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld are pinning their hopes on a 'significant' step forward in this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix – a race in which the field is expected to be even more closely-matched than before.
The Bavarian outfit – which both expected and was expected to be a title contender in 2009, having ably fulfilled all of its objectives in each of the past three seasons – has just four points on the board from the opening four 'flyaway' races, all courtesy of Heidfeld's somewhat fortuitous if opportunistic second place in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang early last month.
The experienced German has only troubled the scorers on three occasions around the Circuit de Catalunya in nine previous appearances, with a best finish of fourth position with Sauber back in 2002, and no points there since 2006. It is surely time for a change of luck.
“We know the Barcelona track like the back of our hands,” affirmed the man from Mönchengladbach, “as we used to test here a lot. I've been to the circuit so many times. As recently as last year we had 16 days of testing in Barcelona. This year we had four days in March, two for each driver, and there will not be any more.
“Barcelona is a tricky track to drive because it presents a variety of challenges and the circuit is very sensitive to changes in temperature. If the wind, temperature or grip levels change even slightly, a set-up which was fine one minute is suddenly all wrong the next.
“Like everybody in the team, I am placing my hopes on our new aerodynamic upgrades. The team has put an incredible amount of energy into trying to close the gap to the leaders. I hope we will perform rather better against our rivals in Barcelona, but that's difficult to predict as all the teams will be bringing upgrade packages of varying degrees to the first race of the European season.”
Indeed, all at the factories back in Munich and Hinwil have been working flat-out on extracting considerably more pace from the recalcitrant and underperforming F1.09 ahead of the start of the European leg of the campaign, well aware that if the fightback does not begin now, it will likely be too late. Kubica has taken the chequered flag fourth in both of his previous outings in the Catalan capital – and a hat-trick this time around to kick-start his 2009 challenge into gear would be, he acknowledged, just what the doctor ordered.
“I am looking forward to the race in Barcelona,” underlined the 24-year-old Pole. “After a block of four overseas races Formula 1 comes back to Europe, which I am happy about. As all Formula 1 teams have tested in Barcelona, I expect the pack to be very close together – even closer than up to now. We will bring a new aero package and we hope to improve significantly compared to our recent performance, as it is our goal to close the gap to the top teams.
“The track is nice to drive and quite challenging. There are some high-speed corners, some low-speed corners and a hairpin which requires very heavy braking. As we have all done a lot of kilometres here, I guess we could drive the circuit with our eyes closed!”