Nick Heidfeld has admitted that there were occasions during the course of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship campaign when he genuinely feared for his BMW-Sauber future - but now he has overcome the issues that plagued his efforts last year, he is confident of a strong run in 2009.

The experienced German found himself under increasing pressure at the Munich and Hinwil-based concern, as his inability to warm his tyres up sufficiently quickly over a single lap saw him struggle in qualifying and all-too often left him on the back foot come the races.

Though his performances on Sunday afternoons were invariably much better - the 31-year-old pulling off a series of superb double passing manoeuvres and racing to no fewer than four second place finishes to end the campaign sixth in the points' standings - team-mate Robert Kubica was doing rather better still, and it was only towards the end of the year that Heidfeld finally began to get back on an even keel again with the title-challenging Pole.

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It was, the man from M?nchengladbach acknowledges, absolutely vital that he turned things around - and he did.

"There were times when I wasn't convinced that I would be with BMW this season," the former International F3000 Champion confessed in an interview with Radio, "but I was always convinced that I would still be in Formula 1. I didn't think about it too much, because that would just take your thoughts away to things that don't matter or don't make you quicker, and that's the crucial thing for a Formula 1 driver.

"I did the right thing by turning things around, and then there was no question [about his future]. It was important that I managed to turn things around later in the year, knowing that I found my speed again and found - together with the car - a better way to be quick, and I'm pretty confident now going into the new season."

Indeed, Heidfeld has reason to be optimistic ahead of the upcoming campaign, with BMW being tipped to have produced a machine in the F1.09 capable not only of battling for race victories on a regular basis, but even of taking the fight to Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes for the world championship laurels.

He believes that the introduction of an interim car that took to the test tracks before Christmas could hand the squad a crucial boost over its immediate rivals, and is relishing the return to slick tyres - even if he questions whether the raft of new technical and aerodynamic regulations sweeping the top flight in the name of cost-cutting and improving the show will ultimately generate better racing.

"I do think so," he responded, when asked if he reckoned there would be more overtaking in 2009, "but I think it will only happen by a small amount. People are suggesting we will see overtaking all the time now, but I don't think that will happen.

"Slick tyres were what I wanted most over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, from a driver's point-of-view at least, it is still not the maximum that can be achieved because we have no competition - it's just Bridgestone. If we had competition we would go far quicker and the tyres would be a lot better.

"We hope that [the interim car] was an advantage; that's why we did it. I think some other teams had parts on the car, but nobody was as extreme as us. We tried to gather as much information from it and let that flow into the new car.

"It's the first time things are like this, so we will all be learning by doing basically. It doesn't mean there will be no development - development will be the same as in the past - but we will have to rely more on simulations and what we do in the factory, as we will only have a little bit of time available on [grand prix] Fridays to put new parts on the car and try them out.

"I think this phase now is going to be extremely important - more important than ever - because if you have big problems at the first race, it will be very, very difficult to turn things around."

by Russell Atkins