Nick Heidfeld argues that nobody will truly understand who is where in the 2009 Formula 1 pecking order until the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in three weeks' time - and he has admitted that he will be 'happy when all the guessing games come to an end in Melbourne'.

The experienced German is entering his tenth season in the top flight this year, and he knows he will need to draw upon all of the wealth of knowledge he has gleaned over that period if he is to help drive BMW-Sauber towards its ultimate ambition - that of world title glory.

Though the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit was inarguably one of the sport's leading forces in 2008 and was widely expected to take a further step forward still in 2009, the issue has been clouded somewhat by the raft of sweeping technical and aerodynamic changes introduced for the forthcoming campaign with the dual aim of cutting costs while at the same time spicing up the show. Heidfeld acknowledges that despite racking up the testing miles, it is still just too difficult to predict where anyone is.

"This year our preparations have been like a journey of discovery," he stated. "There are so many new things about the car which all of us have had to get to grips with, and that's a lot of fun. As far as I'm concerned, the testing we've conducted so far has been very positive. The F1.09 is already driving pretty well for a completely newly-developed car, and it reacts well to changes in set-up.

"I provide as much input as I can in the development of the car. I explain to our engineers exactly how the car feels and where I'd like things improved. I'm not a development engineer, but I think my experience enables me to offer feedback which can bring the team forwards.

"We can still improve on reliability, but at no time have we been confronted by unsolvable problems and we have racked up more miles than several of our rivals. However, the restrictions on testing mean that every lost mile on the track tends to hurt. We've been able to make consistent improvements and still have a lot more ideas which we can develop.

"Unfortunately, I can't say where this puts us in comparison with our rivals - everybody keeps their cards close to their chests in testing. You never know exactly what kind of programme the other teams are running, let alone how much fuel they have on-board. I'll be happy when all the guessing games come to an end in Melbourne."

The man from M?nchengladbach is clearly enthusiastic about the steps that have been taken by governing body the FIA to combat F1's inherent issues, and he is even positive about the impact the controversial KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology and wide front wings are likely to have, despite much scepticism within the paddock about the new initiatives.

"Firstly, I think the idea underpinning all the changes is the right one," he contended. "After all, the aim was to make overtaking easier. I also think that the interplay of the various factors will have an effect here, if only to a certain degree - Formula 1 is not about to suddenly become like touring car racing.

"I'm pleased to see the return of slick tyres. I never liked the fact that, in Formula 1 of all competitions, we didn't have slicks for such a long time. The effects of the noticeably reduced downforce on the cars' aerodynamics require an adjustment in driving style.

"[KERS] is good fun as well. It's great when you press the 'boost' button on the steering wheel and feel the extra shove of 80 horsepower. In testing I also got my first experience of how it feels when another driver presses the button and you don't - you're just left standing. You have to plan really well how you use this additional power, and that's the job of the driver during the race. We are allowed to press the button for 6.5 seconds per lap.

"The system's main advantage is for overtaking when you're up close behind someone, for example in the opening stages of a race. As soon as we have reached 100km/h - and that takes less than three seconds - the electronics release the 'boost' button. You just need to have charged up the energy storage unit first, of course.

"[The steering wheel-adjustable front wing] can enhance the car's balance in various types of corner. However, we are only allowed to use this system twice per lap - i.e. we can make one adjustment to the wing and then return it to its original setting. I doubt whether it really helps in terms of making overtaking easier, but that's something we'll see in the races.

"You get used to [the changes], although I'd have to say that my steering wheel was clearer when we still had our own BMW electronics, before the introduction of the standard F1 electronics. Back then we had some clever sub-levels for various functions."

Aside from its cost in an age in which the sport is endeavouring to reduce rather than increase expenditure, KERS has been slated for its weight, potentially putting heavier drivers at a disadvantage compared to their lighter rivals. Heidfeld added that he has been on an increased fitness drive over the winter months to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead - even if he is adamant that losing weight is emphatically not the answer.

"I haven't been on a starvation diet," the 31-year-old stressed. "That would be the wrong way to go. There is a connection between weight and performance. Hardcore dieting only weakens you, but I have been paying a lot of attention to what I eat and have gradually lost two-and-a-half kilos despite the extra muscle I've built up in training.

"I've done more fitness training this winter than ever before, and it has helped that we've had more time available due to the testing restrictions. I feel extremely fit now. For sure, though, the best fitness training for a Formula 1 driver is driving a Formula 1 car."



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