Dr Mario Theissen is confident BMW has taken a big step forward over the winter months as it aims to take on Formula 1 pace-setters Ferrari and McLaren in 2008, but he underlined his belief that the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit is not in a position to join the battle for overall honours just yet.

In only its second season in the top flight as a team within its own right, BMW finished second in the constructors' world championship in 2007 following McLaren's disqualification, and achieved its target of podium finishes, with second spot for Nick Heidfeld in Canada and third for the German in Hungary. This year the goals have been set higher still.

"We have made good progress and come quite a long way in two-and-a-half years since the new team was created," BMW's Motorsport Director stressed at the Munich launch of the new F1.08 challenger. "We have had two strong seasons and invested a lot of effort into the new car. The F1.08 includes everything we have learned and the experience we have gained from the past two years.

"I think it will be a big step forward again, and certainly we are very confident of turning the battle between the cars in front of us into a battle between more than just two teams this year. They will have taken a leap forward over the winter as well, so we have to improve more than they do. I'm confident we can close the gap, and we're setting our sights high."

Speaking about his driver pairing of Heidfeld and Robert Kubica - with the Pole heading into his second full season with the squad - Theissen insisted he was more than happy the duo would be able to produce the goods as soon as the car is capable of fighting for victory on a regular basis. Though he warned a full-on title assault was another year off yet, he does hope to see at least one of his charges mount the top step of the rostrum in 2008.

"[Not winning a race] wasn't a disappointment in 2007 because it wasn't on our agenda," the 55-year-old asserted. "The original plan as it was laid out in 2005 was that we should be in the points in 2006, on the podium in 2007 and win our first race in 2008, and that hasn't changed."

"I think [fighting for the championship in 2008] would be premature. I hope our car will enable our drivers to do similar lap times [to McLaren and Ferrari], which means we would be fighting for the top positions in the races. As a team I still think it will take another year to be settled and mature enough to really go through the whole season with such an ambition.

"I'm confident our drivers will win races as soon as the car allows for it. We think they are the best drivers, and I'm pretty sure they can both still improve. We have a good relationship between the drivers and the engineers; I see the drivers as not just two guys who drive the car, but as key members of the technical team too.

"I think with Nick and Robert we can be very confident - we have a strong and evenly-matched duo. Nick is quite experienced, more than some of the other drivers [in the top four teams]. I see absolutely no reason why he would not be successful in fighting for the championship.

"For our young team, which in 2006 and 2007 had to drive forward its development in terms of structure and personnel alongside its world championship campaign, consistency is also a great asset. We know these two drivers will get the maximum out of the machinery we give them.

"We'll have to make further improvements in all areas to achieve what we want to, but the past two years have instilled confidence within the team. We are heading in the right direction, and everybody in Munich and Hinwil is focused on the job in-hand. We are a midfield team in terms of size, but in terms of ambition we want to be a front-runner."