Robert Kubica has stated that his superb qualifying performance in Valencia at the weekend was the key to him finishing up on the rostrum in the European Grand Prix - as he re-iterated his conviction that BMW-Sauber no longer has the pace to challenge for the leading positions in Formula 1 on a regular basis.

The Pole produced a stand-out lap on Saturday afternoon to seal third spot on the starting grid around the all-new, harbour-side Juan Carlos I Marina circuit in Spain's third city, and he very nearly converted that into second place when the lights went out to signal the start of the race, before being vigorously rebuffed by Lewis Hamilton and settling into a distant P3.

From thereon in the 23-year-old ran a solid race - interrupted only by an unexpected plastic bag moment early on that briefly distracted his concentration - and though he was never able to challenge Hamilton ahead, equally he came in for little threat from behind either, with only a late-race charge from the second McLaren-Mercedes of Heikki Kovalainen giving him any real cause for concern.

"We did start pretty well," he affirmed afterwards. "In corner one I was on the kerb and Lewis was closing; we approached the second corner and I was going for it, but then I saw Felipe [Massa] braking quite early and it was too much risk. I thought if I overshot the braking point I would crash into him, so I just decided to stay where I was.

"Then I was constantly a bit slower than Lewis, and suddenly in the middle of the first stint I saw a white plastic bag flying across the corner and I could not avoid it. Suddenly I couldn't steer anymore for two corners, and it was extremely dangerous - I have never had that before.

"Fortunately when I approached a high-speed corner it blew away, but still my confidence for the next half a lap was not great. Fortunately it was only half a lap, but I think I lost around three seconds. It was very important for the pit laps because I didn't know when the McLaren behind me was coming in, so I needed to pull away.

"We finished third, quite a far way from the top two cars. I think the key for this podium was qualifying, managing to put my car in third position. I was just three tenths off pole, and it turned out that we had three laps more fuel than Felipe.

"I think that was an amazing performance. Otherwise, if I had started behind Kimi [Raikkonen] and Kovalainen, most probably I would have finished behind them, but I managed a good lap and here we are.

"I finished half a minute behind Hamilton, though, so it's quite a big gap. I think [the race] was our reality; our real pace is a bit far away, but we will try to do our best."

Indeed, many view Kubica as the 'best' driver of the 2008 Formula 1 campaign to-date, as the man from Krak?w has consistently and repeatedly out-performed the equipment at his disposal to keep his challenge for glory on-track.

He has finished up on the podium on no fewer than five occasions - including an extremely popular and well-deserved breakthrough victory in the top flight in Montreal back in June - and, against all expectations, has remained in contention for the drivers' laurels, sitting as he does only 15 points adrift of world championship leader Hamilton, with 60 still up for grabs between now and season's end.

"I'm trying my best," he underlined. "In the last race I also started on the second row, but I finished much further behind. I'm giving my maximum and I believe everyone is trying their best, but we have to be realistic and I think the true pace of our car is more similar to our race pace than that in qualifying.

"We struggled a bit more than Ferrari and McLaren on the long stints. Most probably with new tyres I managed to pull out something more and the car was behaving better, but as soon as the tyres get a bit used, then the car starts sliding too much and you cannot do anything."

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