Nick Heidfeld misses being in a Formula One car between test sessions and races and, with final on-track preparation now done and dusted, admits that he cannot wait for the 2008 world championship season to begin in Australia.

The German helped push BMW Sauber into position as the closest thing to a challenger for Ferrari and McLaren last season, and is keen to make the breakthrough and become a grand prix winner in 2008, but simply being in the cockpit is enough to make him happy.

"As far as I'm concerned, the winter break could have been a bit shorter," he told the team's official website, "I love being in the car and look forward to every opportunity to drive it. All in all, I would prefer it if we tested less and raced more often. I'm pleased to say that the winter break was not actually that long, thanks to the regular testing we've been doing, [but] almost five months without a race is just too long, if you ask me."

Testing has again shown the Ferrari and McLaren are likely to be setting the pace when the real action kicks off in Melbourne, with BMW struggling to make up the gap between the top two and the rest after a difficult start to life with the F1.08. Heidfeld, however, insists that too much can be read into testing performances and is confident that the team can be closer to the pace when it matters.

"Even for us as drivers, it has been a long time since it was this difficult to say how the F1 teams stand against each other," he said, eyeing a closely-matched midfield group which currently includes the F1.08, "The testing results of the big teams have simply been too variable to form an opinion and, as for us, we have made huge progress since the roll-out in Valencia."

The 2008 season will bring several firsts to Formula One, with a ban on electronic drivers aids and the advent of night racing in the top flight. Ever the enthusiast, Heidfeld is ready to embrace the changes.

"All the drivers have been really keen to find out how the latest Formula One cars react without traction control, and we have all adapted our driving style accordingly - after all, that's part of our job," he said, "I also had the opportunity to try the car out in the wet in testing, and I have to say that it was really fun to drive without traction control.

"The challenge for the drivers is greater, and that's the way I like it. I'm aiming to squeeze the maximum from both myself and the BMW Sauber F1.08, to minimise mistakes and to keep on developing as a driver."

Having raced sportscars earlier in his career, Heidfeld is no stranger to driving in the dark, but reckons the Singapore experience will be altogether different.

"I'm generally a fan of all things new, so I can't wait to see how it all works in Singapore and what the atmosphere is like," he said, "The plan is to use artificial light to illuminate the race track as if it were daylight, so there is no comparison with the Le Mans 24 Hours, where I once drove in the dark."

Singapore does not come around until the second half of the season, however, and, for now, Heidfeld's attention is solely on the opening round, in Melbourne, in just under a fortnight's time.

"The opening race of the season is always something special," he said, "I like the Melbourne circuit, as it has a character very much of its own - a cross between a street circuit and a permanent race track. As the circuit is not constantly used for racing, grip levels are extremely low, particularly during the initial practice sessions.

"With no traction control or engine braking control, it will certainly be a big challenge. Added to which, the weather has sometimes come up with the odd surprise in the past.

"For me, though, there is the extra attraction that Australia is my favourite travel destination, and I'll have a couple of days' holiday there before the race. But I'm just really looking forward to the season finally getting underway."

 

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