Nick Heidfeld was a happy man after qualifying fifth for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, as the German bids to convince his employers BMW-Sauber to retain him for the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship campaign.

The performance marks only the second time this season that Heidfeld has got the better of team-mate Robert Kubica on a Saturday afternoon and - given his currently precarious situation at the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit on the back of a string of less-than stand-out showings - it could not have come at a better time.

What's more, the 31-year-old has generally held the upper hand over Kubica all weekend in Belgium so far, and having set himself up in perfect shape by leading the way in final free practice in the morning, not once did he look like being in any danger during the hour-long qualifying session as he went on to match his finest grid position of the year.

"I'm happy with the result," the man from M?nchengladbach affirmed, "and for me the weekend has gone well so far. It wasn't bad on Friday, this morning I was quickest and fifth was the best possible result in qualifying. For me it is very important to know the work we have done has paid off.

"A couple of weeks ago we found solutions to some problems, and for me this meant an improvement, but then came the race in Valencia which was surprisingly bad. Then at last week's Monza test we were able to learn something more.

"I have the feeling we are a little closer to McLaren and Ferrari here. However, I think in the race it will be very difficult for us to keep up with their pace. Tomorrow the weather conditions will be an important factor, and a good start for me will be crucial. I will start from the clean side of the track."

The same could not be said in any way, however, for Kubica, who has lagged behind his team-mate from the word 'go' around Spa, and only hoisted himself above Scuderia Toro Rosso's S?bastien Bourdais with a last-ditch effort to salvage eighth place on the starting grid for the grand prix, more than four tenths of a second away from Heidfeld.

"Qualifying was difficult for me," the 23-year-old Polish star acknowledged, "although the conditions were the best so far over the course of the weekend. The track was completely dry, but I have had problems with the balance of the car all weekend and I am lacking overall grip. This makes driving quite difficult, especially here in Spa where you have a lot of long corners."

BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen and the squad's technical director Willy Rampf nevertheless professed themselves content with the outcome - as the team continues to make progress throughout the meeting.

"I'm satisfied with today's performance," stated Theissen. "We obviously didn't have the right basic set-up yesterday and, with the changing weather conditions, it was not easy to get it right. However, we saw this morning we were able to make a significant step forward.

"Nick confirmed this in qualifying with both low and high fuel loads. He is now in a strong position for the race. For Robert things were just not right this weekend, and in qualifying he wasn't able to put in a perfect lap."

"Although we struggled yesterday to find the right set-up, today we managed to get both cars safely into Q3," added Rampf. "Nick in particular has made a big step forward since yesterday, and he was very strong in qualifying.

"Robert struggled with the car's set-up in all the practice sessions, and sector two was particularly difficult for him. I think we are well-prepared for the race. Now we have to see what the other teams' strategies are."