BMW Sauber team principal Mario Theissen insists that the Hinwil squad expects to be challenging for Formula One's world championship next season, despite having to cope with the major shift in the regulations.

The team achieved its set aim of becoming a regular contender for race wins in 2008, with Robert Kubica taking its, and his, first F1 victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in June, but cynics have suggested that Theissen's outfit may follow in the wheeltracks of other pretenders to the throne regularly contested by McLaren and Ferrari, and fade away just as the ultimate prize appeared within reach.

Theissen, however, maintains that, having managed to closely follow its prescribed development path this far, he expects to see Kubica and team-mate Nick Heidfeld continue to increase the pressure on F1's 'big two' in 2009.

"Formula One is set to experience the most significant rule changes in its history," he accepted in his end-of-term assessment, "Wide-reaching controls on aerodynamics systems will see the cars looking totally different in 2009, treadless tyres will be brought back and the totally new KERS technology introduced. This may bring about shifts in the balance of power, [but] this extremely challenging scenario does not alter our goal of fighting for the world championship title in 2009."

At the mid-way point of the 2008 campaign, it looked as though Kubica and the team could actually achieve Theissen's aim a year ahead of schedule. BMW Sauber had already topped the constructors' standings as early as round three, while its Polish driver assumed first place in the drivers' points table following his victory in Canada. Thereafter, however, the team faded as a force and, despite Kubica only being eliminated from title contention at the penultimate round in China, had to settle for third place in the teams' standings and fourth in the drivers'.

While Kubica made plain his frustration at what he saw as a loss of focus from the team, with 2009 becoming the centre of attention, Theissen insists that that was not necessarily the case.

"It wasn't a question of what should have happened, but what we wanted to be the case," he said of the lofty ambitions, "These magnificent achievements so early in the season naturally whetted the appetite for more.

"We are proud of our successful season and we have once again achieved our exacting goals. We set out to turn the two-horse race at the top of the standings into a three-way battle and to record our first victory. We reached this target much earlier than expected and even managed to do so with a one-two finish.

"Although it didn't take us long to reach our goals, there was no let-up from anybody in the team. We continued to bring new and further stages of technical developments into the car in the second half of the season but, unfortunately, they didn't produce the performance gains we expected. Our pace of development was fine, but the results were not up to scratch and our rivals opened up a gap over us during the course of the season. We will learn from this for 2009, when we will be looking to be up there battling for the title."

In comparison to the two teams it left to battle over the ultimate glory in 2008, BMW Sauber was a model of consistency on track, managing to get through 2008 without a single technical retirement, and notching up by far the most race laps and fastest pit-stops of any team. That, and the performance of the F1.08 helped to bring not only the one-two result in Montreal, but also pole for the Pole in Bahrain, two fastest laps - courtesy of Heidfeld in Malaysia and Germany - and eleven podium finishes, and major improvement over the two it had managed in 2007.

While the delay in confirming its line-up for 2009 would suggest that the team had perhaps believed its car to be the biggest element in the upsurge, however, Theissen reiterated that he had had no qualms about re-signing the Kubica-Heidfeld partnership for 2009, despite the potential availability of double world champion Fernando Alonso, who was being linked to the team for some time.

"All in all, we were happy with the performances of our drivers in 2008, otherwise neither would be driving for us in 2009," the German pointed out, "However, Robert and Nick had very contrasting years.

"Robert shook off the memory of 2007, was hugely motivated for the job in hand and threw himself into his work with his new race engineer. He was in top form and, if the F1.08 was not quick enough, he took it as a personal affront. The working relationship was therefore not always easy, but his unreserved determination to achieve success commands respect.

"For Nick, the season was very different. It took too long for the seriousness of the situation to be recognised and the causes of his problems above all in qualifying to be systematically addressed. When you've got so many years of experience, you can maybe tell yourself after one or two unsuccessful outings that these were just blips and everything will be alright again the next time around, but that was not the case. It was only with intensive work that we got to grips with the problem.

"What stood out about both Robert and Nick, however, was their extremely low error count on the track. In this respect, nobody else on the grid comes close to our two
drivers - and, for that, I take my hat off to them."

BMW Sauber has already revealed that the roll-out of its 2009 challenger will take place in mid-January.