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 Mönchengladbach 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.