He may be dubbed 'Quick Nick', but for much of 2008 Nick Heidfeld was anything but as he toiled in the shadow cast by in-form, title-challenging BMW-Sauber team-mate Robert Kubica - but he insists he has come out of the tunnel and is fighting fit again now for 2009.

Heidfeld began the campaign well with a strong second place to eventual Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, and sixth position in Malaysia and fourth in Bahrain continued his solid early-season run - but then the problems began.

Having qualified inside the top six for each of the opening three races, the experienced German would only twice more better the fourth row of the grid over the remaining 15 outings, and in Hungary and Japan he missed the Q3 cut altogether - in what was acknowledged to be the third or at worst fourth-fastest car in the field.

With warming his tyres up sufficiently quickly to be able to shine over a single lap Heidfeld's major issue, he was frequently left on the back foot come the races, limiting his ability to challenge for the higher points-scoring finishes - as Kubica conversely racked up no fewer than seven rostrums and his and BMW's breakthrough grand prix victory in Montreal. It has not, he admitted, been the easiest of years.

"We had a car that at some stages of the season was capable of finishing at the front or on the podium, and Robert was in the position to fight for the championship for quite some time," the 31-year-old told the official Formula 1 website, reflecting on a campaign during which his team-mate's star rose just as much as his own fell.

"That brought a lot of attention for him, and for me to be struggling at the same time obviously didn't look so good, but if you look towards the end of the season I turned things around. This bouncing back was quite satisfying for me, especially the way I managed the situation.

"Okay, first you shouldn't get into such a situation for sure, but then to get out of it [you should] not do anything stupid while you are in it. It is easy if you start at the back to say 'I will risk everything in the first corner' or try something that you normally would not do, but I didn't and I scored good points from the bad qualifying positions that I had."

That Heidfeld undoubtedly did, as eleven points-scoring finishes attest to, and there were still flashes of brilliance, such as his bold tactical call and inspired double passes in the torrential downpour of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and a dazzling last lap at Spa-Francorchamps that ultimately secured the man from M?nchengladbach his fourth runner-up spot of the campaign - and seventh of his career.

What's more, as Kubica seemed to encounter the same difficulties as had afflicted his team-mate early on in the closing stages, Heidfeld began to return to form - the legacy of a calm, methodical work ethic that saw him and his engineers eventually overcome his troubles, and a turnaround that has left him in confident spirits looking forwards to 2009.

"Honestly, I've taken away quite a lot," he affirmed, "although it is difficult to express that in a few words. The season started quite well, with no clouds on the horizon, and then I started to have problems in qualifying - and to sort that out took me longer than I expected.

"In the end I managed to get over it, and that left me with a very positive feeling, as I was able to analyse the problem and put it behind me, together with the team. I had a quite good end of season. Although it was not great in terms of results, in terms of maximising the potential of the car it was - and that was very satisfying.

"I have no explanation for why it suddenly went so negative for Robert, but I think it shows how difficult the season was, not only for me. I would guess that the main reason was the tyres. We really had a very small window this year and it was really difficult to maximise our potential.

"I think it was mainly that a couple of our developments didn't work. We developed the car pretty well in the wind tunnel; we had some pretty good ideas. The development speed, re-producing parts and the research was normal, but the outcome at the end on the track was not as planned."

Heidfeld ultimately wound up sixth in the title chase - 15 points and two positions behind Kubica, and pipped to fifth by a single marker in the final race by Renault's Fernando Alonso. Though he acknowledges that 'if I had been in his (Kubica's) situation of fighting for the championship, I would have also raised more concerns' about the F1.08's slipping competitiveness as the season progressed, he kept quiet, he reveals, as 'in the situation I was in, it would not have made sense'.

The former International F3000 Champion also remained remarkably composed amidst all the rumours flying around about the safety of his drive at the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit next season - and whilst he confesses that 'I did not know at all if my future was with BMW-Sauber', now that he is firmly on-board for a fourth consecutive campaign, he is clearly looking onwards and upwards.

"For sure, it was a difficult time for me," he recognised of the uncertainty over his seat at the squad. "On the other hand, I tried to be realistic both to myself and to the outside world. I tried to explain how things work. If I screwed up, I said it very clearly.

"I think sometimes people search for a million explanations, but I tried to stay realistic. My main focus was to solve my problems, because I knew that if I could turn things around my future would be clear - and that is how it turned out in the end. The simple truth is if you are quick in Formula 1 you stay, [and] if you are slow, you're out.

"I did not know if I would stay with the team a long time before it was announced; I did not know at all if my future was with BMW-Sauber. Obviously I did hope, but I was pretty sure that if it would not be with BMW it would be with another team.

"I think compared to many other teams it looks like we have already produced quite an advanced B-car with next year's regulations of front and rear wings, and I have tested KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) at the Barcelona test and used slick tyres.

"I hope that will give us an advantage for next year by gathering more information than the other teams, but then again, I expect next year's car to be completely different. We did this test with the old '08 car with modifications, and again my guess is that the F1.09 will be a distinctively different car.

"It might be that light drivers have an advantage next year with KERS. I don't think it's about minimum weight, as even with the heavier drivers the cars are below the minimum weight. It might be an advantage as you have more weight that you can shift around the car, but that is something that we have to find out.

"For Christmas, I will go back to Germany for a Christmas party with my fan club, and then comes the great part - we will spend the holidays there and I plan to do my first proper skiing. Until now, I was not allowed to ski because of the contract with my manager, but as from next year, I will have a new manager and that gives me the freedom to hit the slopes. I don't know exactly how it will be, but I have already been to winter destinations and I imagine winter holidays whilst being able to ski will be one of the best holidays imaginable..."