He may still be searching for his maiden victory in Formula 1 after no fewer than 150 starts, but Nick Heidfeld is adamant that breaking his grand prix duck is of little significance or concern to him - what matters, he insists, is challenging for the world championship crown.

Over the course of his nine-year career in the top flight, Heidfeld has seven times taken the chequered flag in second place, and has come home third on a further four occasions, leaving him holding the unenviable record of most points scored - and fourth-most starts - without a win to his name.

In fairness to the man from M?nchengladbach, though, rarely has he had a machine at his disposal with which to battle for glory, with last year's BMW-Sauber the first car he has driven that has been capable of fighting consistently at the front of the grid.

Cruelly, the advent of the F1.08 coincided with a change in tyre regulations in the sport that noticeably failed to gel with Heidfeld's driving style, and a super-quick team-mate in the shape of Robert Kubica, who did win in 2008, in Montreal - a race the experienced German claims could have been his had circumstances not dictated otherwise.

"I always get this question," he told Crash.net Radio, "but sometimes I think you people worry about it more than I do. It's nothing I get uncomfortable with; it's not something I focus on, because that wouldn't help.

"I'm confident that I'm capable of doing it if the situation is there and the car is able to do it. So far in my career there has only been one event where my team-mate was able to win a race, last season in Canada where I had a very good chance to win if it hadn't been for team tactical reasons. Ultimately it's not about getting that first win; my target is to win the world championship."

That goal is one that Heidfeld has set himself for 2009, but he acknowledges that with F1 heading into its brave new dawn and with a raft of aerodynamic and technical changes sweeping the sport, no one will really know what kind of chance they have until all the cars take to the track in anger for the first time in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of March.

"It's very much an unknown in 2009," the 31-year-old affirmed. "Nobody knows who will be strong, [but] of course you should expect the top teams - McLaren and Ferrari - to be where they've always been over the last couple of years.

"Theoretically the bigger teams should be able to develop a car quicker and make use of the new regulations quicker, but that is not set. We've seen in the past with regulation changes that sometimes smaller teams get a lucky punch maybe and are pretty strong.

"To be confident of what's going to happen is very difficult, because there's so much of an unknown. I'm pretty confident that we have tried our best and that we took the right direction in having a proper 'B' car on the circuit and started developing it early, and now we'll see if that is enough."

by Russell Atkins