BMW-Sauber's patience with Nick Heidfeld appears to be running out, after the German admitted that 'the pace wasn't there' during a European Grand Prix in Valencia today that he described as 'a disaster' and 'one of the worst races ever'.

Having seemingly got to the bottom of his early-season tyre-warming issues mid-campaign, Heidfeld has gone into a slump again in the last two races, failing even to progress beyond the initial qualifying phase in Hungary three weeks ago, and enduring a torrid time of things around the all-new Juan Carlos I Marina circuit this weekend.

Despite having made it through into Q3 on this occasion, the experienced 31-year-old nevertheless languished more than a second adrift of team-mate Robert Kubica - even allowing for the fact that he was running heavier than the Pole - and following an insipid race day performance, his Bavarian employers seemed to offer him little in the way of either support or excuses.

"This was one of the worst races ever for me," the man from M?nchengladbach rued afterwards. "To finish ninth in a car which is obviously good enough for third is a disaster.

"After qualifying I was pretty confident because we realised we could go well, but in the race I had big problems with the harder tyres during the first two stints, and it was only better at the end with the softer compound. I lost one position after the start, and later in the race I couldn't gain any. The pace wasn't there."

"Starting from eighth was not an ideal situation for Nick," reflected BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen. "We were hoping he would improve one or two places at the start, but in the heat of the moment he unfortunately lost a position, and then the race was basically over for him."

"Nick started from eighth, hence we expected him to score championship points," added the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's technical director Willy Rampf. "However, his pace was simply too slow. We expected to score more points today."

The squad at least had the satisfaction of taking away six points from the weekend courtesy of Kubica's strong run to third place - another example of the Krak?w-born star out-performing the equipment at his disposal and punching considerably above his weight in 2008 to keep him in the championship fight. It was not a race without dramas, however, as he recounted...

"I started pretty well," the 23-year-old reflected, "but in corner one I went over the kerb and Lewis [Hamilton] was closing. In the second corner I was going to overtake Lewis, but I saw Felipe [Massa] braking quite early. It would have been too much of a risk, as I could have ended up over-shooting the braking point and crashing into him.

"Over the next few laps I was consistently a bit slower than Lewis. Suddenly I saw a white plastic bag flying across the track, but could not avoid it and it went under the car. I couldn't steer for two corners, which was extremely dangerous.

"Fortunately most of the bag soon flew away, but my confidence was very low over the next sector, and I lost around three seconds. In the end I finished third. Eventually I think my good qualifying result yesterday was crucial for today's result."

That rostrum finish clearly impressed both Theissen and Rampf - and no doubt further strengthened their resolve to keep hold of their prize asset beyond the end of the current campaign.

"Certainly we enjoyed being back on the podium," Theissen affirmed, "with it being the fifth time this year for Robert. He drove a strong race, though during the early laps he had some trouble as a plastic bag was stuck on his car and affected its handling.

"A big compliment also to the organisers of the event for such a good first race - the atmosphere in the city and at the circuit around the harbour is just fantastic. From now on Valencia will be one of the season's highlights."

"This was a race without too much excitement," concurred Rampf. "Our most difficult moment was when Robert radioed he had a problem. On the telemetry data we could see that his car lost downforce, which was due to a plastic bag stuck to the floor of the car.

"During the first pit-stop we removed it, and after this, everything was fine again. At the start Robert almost overtook Lewis Hamilton, but finally it didn't work out. He then drove a good and consistent race and finished third. We are happy about Robert's podium finish."

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