The under-fire Nick Heidfeld has admitted that he is feeling the pressure to perform in Formula 1 at the moment, as he finds himself with an increasing fight on his hands to retain his drive at BMW-Sauber next year.

The experienced German has endured an up-and-down campaign in the top flight in 2008, struggling most notably in qualifying, an area in which he trails in-form team-mate Robert Kubica eleven-one and where he has four times in twelve races failed even to make the top ten in what is widely acknowledged as being the third-quickest car on the grid.

In the wake of the European Grand Prix in Valencia two weeks ago - a race in which Kubica finished up on the podium whilst Heidfeld toiled around to just ninth place at the chequered flag, more than ten seconds outside of the points - an unimpressed BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen urged 'we plan to see both cars finish solidly in the points', quotes German publication Focus, with the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit's technical director Willy Rampf adding: "His pace was simply too slow."

"Yes," Heidfeld replied, when asked ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps whether he is feeling the pressure, "but I put myself under pressure more than anybody else could do from the outside. It's pretty clear; if one car finishes on the podium and I finish ninth, nobody needs to tell me anything.

"It's all about understanding the problems and then changing some things and trying to go quicker. I was in a similar situation a while ago this year; I thought I had put that behind me, and then I was a bit surprised to run into a similar sort of problem again in Valencia. I knew roughly where to search and I think I've made steps forward, but we will find out in the next couple of races.

"I think lap time-wise, pace-wise, I was a lot better [in Valencia] than earlier this season, so I was pretty happy with that, but on the other hand I had some bad luck with traffic. Secondly, I made more mistakes than usual; that's obviously something I'm also working on, but I don't think that's as difficult to change as the pace problems I had earlier in the season. Although qualifying didn't go perfectly, I was rather happy with the pace I had."

Heidfeld finished fifth in the Belgian Grand Prix in 2007, from sixth on the grid, and he agreed that a similar outcome twelve months on 'wouldn't be a bad result' - especially as his troubles in qualifying could well be mitigated at Spa by the facility of overtaking around the track. Beyond that, he is similarly hopeful of a strong showing in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where he paced the second day of testing last week.

"Nobody knows what will happen here on Sunday," the 31-year-old stressed. "The weather forecast isn't the best. It could rain which I wouldn't mind, because I enjoy driving in wet conditions, but you cannot predict and say I would be happy with this or that.

"Testing goes well, but that doesn't mean that it will be perfect here. Definitely I was happy with Monza testing, though. We tried a couple of things which most likely will only work at Monza but anyway, we go there after this race, so it's not looking too bad and we also tried some small things which should help me."

Heidfeld was similarly defended by Kubica - a man who has outscored him 55-41 so far this season - who insisted that he would be keen for the pair to continue working alongside each other in 2009, what would be their third full campaign together.

"People like to forget what Nick has done in the past," the Pole stated. "You have to look at the bigger picture, not just at what you want to see.

"Nick is a very good driver, and he has shown that many times. I struggle to find someone who is quicker. I don't see why we can't be team-mates again next season, but I would have no problem if there was also a different driver."

Should the man from M?nchengladbach indeed lose his seat at BMW at the end of the current season, his options to remain in the uppermost echelon would appear to be limited. Red Bull junior outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso - with potentially two berths available should S?bastien Bourdais not be retained - looks to be the most likely possibility, but team co-owner Gerhard Berger responded to suggestions that Heidfeld's manager Andre Theuerzeit had been spotted on more than one occasion in the Red Bull Racing motorhome in Valencia with only lukewarm enthusiasm.

"If Nick is on the market then you have to have a look at him," the Austrian former ten-time grand prix-winner told German's Sport Bild, "but at the moment, unfortunately, you have to say his achievements have been a bit down."

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