Heidfeld insists BMW are F1 contenders

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The Independent Online

BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld believes the German Formula One team can be a serious contender for the world title in a 2009 season marked by a raft of new regulations.

F1 has introduced a number of changes expected to make the sport cheaper and greener, which has given added importance to pre-season testing.

"What is actually possible is determined to a large degree by our technical performance," Heidfeld said today. "(But) the aim of the team is to be involved in the title battle in 2009."

A ban on in-season testing has given real impetus to the final sessions before the opening Australian Grand Prix on 29 March. The majority of F1 teams are testing at Barcelona from Monday through Thursday next week for the last time before the start of the season.

"The restrictions on testing mean that every lost mile on the track tends to hurt," Heidfeld said. "Unfortunately, I can't say where this puts us in comparison with our rivals - everybody keeps their cards close to their chests in testing."

F1 teams have had to make major aerodynamic changes and will be racing on slick tires. They are also developing a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), a hybrid technology that - with the push of a button - provides the driver with extra power for overtaking.

"This year our preparations have been like a journey of discovery. 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," said Heidfeld, who is still looking for his maiden victory in his ninth season and fourth with BMW Sauber.

"As far as I'm concerned, the testing we've conducted so far has been very positive."

Heidfeld was a big fan of KERS, which stores energy under braking to provide the extra boost for overtaking.

"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," the 31-year-old Heidfeld said.

"I think the idea underpinning all the changes is the right one; 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 One is not about to suddenly become like touring car racing."

Heidfeld is also set to marry his partner sometime this year, with the new regulations making that easier, too.

"We haven't set a date yet, but that won't create a problem. The ban on testing should make it possible," he said.