Nick Heidfeld is hoping that BMW-Sauber's first major upgrade of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship campaign for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona will prove to be the catalyst for vaulting the underperforming Bavarian outfit up the starting grid.
The four points notched up by the experienced German courtesy of second place in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang last month are all BMW thus far has to show from a desultory start to a season in which it had firmly expected to challenge for title glory.
Indeed, just under a fortnight ago in Bahrain, Heidfeld and team-mate Robert Kubica finished respectively last and last-but one, an abject showing and one that made it crystal clear that improvements needed to come fast. This weekend will be the acid test for just how effective those updates have been.
“I think the position obviously was quite poor for the team,” the 31-year-old – set to turn 32 on Sunday – mused of BMW's performance in the desert kingdom. “We could have performed stronger from our pace, but it still would have been difficult to get into the points. Unfortunately we both had to change our front nose as we made contact with some other cars in turn one, but that happens a lot easier if you don't start at the front.
“We knew that we would struggle more and more in certain races as we did not get any major updates, as the team decided pretty early on that rather than bringing small updates we would provide a big package here in Barcelona. Here in the past it worked and I think this year the theory behind it was logical but everybody, including myself, was surprised by how close together the teams were this season.
“Everybody thought with the new regulations there would be massive differences, but if you look at the last couple of races there are sometimes ten cars within just a couple of tenths. Therefore it would have been the right choice to do small steps.
“We hope that we will make a bigger one here [and] I hope the positions will change after the first four races. First of all we hope to see on the track what we have seen in simulation and in the wind tunnel; then we can carry on with proper development. The big question is what will all the other guys bring..?”
So poor has BMW's form been that Heidfeld has yet to make it through to the top ten Q3 shoot-out in qualifying this year – even with the theoretical advantage of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems). Indeed, the F1.09 will benefit from neither KERS nor a 'double-decker' split-level diffuser this weekend – something the man from Mönchengladbach concedes could have been of use around the Circuit de Catalunya.
“We found out with KERS that it is not as big an advantage as probably people thought before the season,” he contended. “Some teams use it, some don't. Sometimes you put it in for one race and take it out for the next. Here it definitely would have been an advantage at the start because I think it is the longest straight until turn one, so it would have had a big effect there – but in terms of overall lap time it is not that easy to simulate. We are still working on it and plan to have it back in the car in Istanbul as well as a double-diffuser.”