The 'very good progress' displayed by Formula 1 veteran Nick Heidfeld of late was pivotal to the experienced German retaining his drive at BMW-Sauber in the top flight in 2009, Dr Mario Theissen has revealed.

Heidfeld's seat at the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit was the subject of fevered speculation season-long until it was announced yesterday that he, team-mate Robert Kubica and test driver Christian Klien are all to remain on-board next year [see separate story - click here].

For much of the summer, the 31-year-old struggled woefully to get a handle on Bridgestone's 2008-spec Potenza rubber, failing to warm his tyres up sufficiently quickly in qualifying - and consequently ending up on the back foot come the races.

Whilst Kubica has not lined up lower than eleventh this year to-date, in Hungary Heidfeld failed to make it beyond even Q1, in a car that was at the time considered to be the third-quickest on the grid. The former has on average been the fifth-fastest driver in qualifying in the highest echelon this year, the latter just ninth.

Since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, however, the man from M?nchengladbach has tallied the equal third-highest points total of any driver - behind only F1 title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, and four more than Kubica - and sits behind only defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen in terms of number of fastest laps this season.

That kind of form - allied to his clear overtaking prowess, with most notably a brace of superb double passes during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone - convinced BMW to keep hold of him, Theissen affirmed.

"We wanted to decide about our drivers in the summer," BMW's motorsport director told German news agency SID, admitting that the decision was postponed to see if Heidfeld could recover from his mid-season slump.

"The weakness was not really about his speed in the races, and not at all about his qualities with overtaking, but the fact that he could not get the car right in qualifying.

"We worked with him very intensively on this, particularly on warming up the tyres, [and] we saw very good progress in the last races."

Theissen refused to answer a question about whether BMW had simply been unable to reach an agreement with former double world champion and current Renault incumbent Fernando Alonso - the Spaniard having been linked to taking Heidfeld's place - F1SA claims.

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