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Robert Kubica in BMW F1.09 at Valencia

BMW Sauber became the sixth Formula 1 team to unveil their 2009 challenger on Tuesday. The F1.09, the fourth car BMW have built since their 2006 takeover of Sauber, was launched at the Valencia track in Spain with drivers Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica and Christian Klien present, and Kubica taking the car for it’s first few runs.

BMW head into 2009 aiming to become serious championship contenders, having dropped off the pace after a strong start to 2008 that saw them claim their first race win. Kubica, the main challenger for BMW in ’08, said at the launch: “Last year we saw that working together we can achieve good result. For the first half of the season, we were title contenders. We were leading the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships at certain points of the season. Everyone remembers how it finished, and we will try to repeat the first half of the season and finish better than last year.” Team boss Mario Theissen displayed lots of confidence in a press conference following the launch, saying that BMW, in a similar fashion to Toyota, have always had a four year plan in F1: “We set out a plan aiming at the first points in 2006, the first podium in 2007, to win in 2008, and we then stated that we want to fight for the championship from this year onwards. So far all targets have been met, so there is no reason to abandon the final and most important target. We want to fight for the title with the big two other teams and whoever else is up there.”

BMW plan to remain testing the new car in Valencia until Saturday.

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Robert Kubica set the fastest time on a drying Fuji speedway in the final practice session ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. It stopped raining at the start of the session but most of the action came in the dying minutes when Timo Glock continued his pace from the previous session on Friday, and took second behind the Pole.

Nelson Piquet Jr landed third position, a full 0.4 seconds faster than teammate, Fernando Alonso, who finished ninth. NIck Heidfeld continued BMW’s speed in the conditions, taking fourth, and local favourite, Kazuki Nakajima, improved even more in his Williams and took fifth. David Coulthard climbed out of the back two positions he had been in during Friday and set the sixth fastest time, just 0.1 seconds faster than his teammate, Mark Webber, in eighth, and Felipe Massa sat in seventh, with Lewis Hamilton splitting the Toro Rossos in eleventh. Jarno Trulli could only manage thirteenth ahead of Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella.

Rain was initially predicted for Qualifying, but is now looking unlikely, so will the battle be with the front runners and, if not, who will spring a surprise?

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BMW Sauber have confirmed that both race drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, will stay at the German team in 2009. The announcement ends speculation that Singapore Grand Prix winner, Fernando Alonso, will leave Renault for BMW for next year. Third driver, Christian Klien, will also remain at the team.

The German outfit has had a very strong year, with the team still mathematically able to win both championships. Kubica led home a 1-2 finish at this years Canadian Grand Prix, which remains the highlight of BMW’s 2008 season. This means rumours that Alonso might move to the team for 2009 have come to an end, leaving him with only two options of either going to Honda or staying at Renault.

Heidfeld has a long history with the team, having started his F1 career at Sauber, before joining BMW in 2006 after their taking over of the Swiss-based constructor. Kubica also started his F1 career at BMW in 2006 following the departure of former world champion, Jacques Villeneuve.

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BMW’s third driver, Christian Klien, led the way on the second day of the Jerez test on Wednesday. His fastest time, a 1:19.537, was 0.2 seconds fastest than Sebstian Vettel testing for the Red Bull senior team as normal testing duties resumed.

Vettel was in action for the Red Bull team as preparation for joining them next year, and allowing Sebastien Buemi to take his seat at Toro Rosso for a day, in an evaluation drive for a 2009 race seat at the team. Buemi finished behind Vettel in third. Test drivers Gary Paffett and Kamui Kobayashi were out for McLaren and Toyota, completing the day fourth and fifth ahead of Lucas di Grassi in the Renault. Honda third driver, Alex Wurz, set a best time of 1:21.123, a full 2 seconds faster than Kazuki Nakajima who was testing out a 2009 regulation rear-wing for Williams.

Testing continues into Thursday, where Nick Heidfeld and Pedro de la Rosa are expected to make an appearance, along with Takuma Sato, also in an evaluation drive for a Toro Rosso seat.

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Nick Heidfeld completed the final practice session at Spa on top as the rain kept on falling. With the showers on and off and a damp track for most of Saturday practice, the BMW just beat McLaren to first with a 1:47.876 ahead of Heikki Kovalainen’s time of 1:48.165.

Lewis Hamilton was behind with a 1:48.356 which was not enough to beat his former teammate, Fernando Alonso, who continued his form with a 1:48.307. Felipe Massa led the charge for Ferrari in fifth, 0.2 seconds ahead of his teammate who was also separated by Toro Rosso’s Sebastain Vettel. Mark Webber just made the top ten with a 1:49.054, beating Jarno Trulli to the position by 0.003 seconds.

It wasn’t a perfect session for BMW as Robert Kubica could only manage 13th. The Force Indias led the Hondas with Jenson Button the only man not setting a time after leaving the pits and coming to an immediate stop.

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Nick Heidfeld has topped the time sheets on day two of testing at Monza. Recently Heidfeld has been struggling in timed sessions but today he completed 89 laps to set the fastest time of 1:22.621. Fellow German, Nico Rosberg finished in second for Williams, 0.2 seconds behind the BMW. 

McLaren and Ferrari failed to make it into the 1:22s, finishing 3rd and 5th. They were split by Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel who set a time of 1:23.424, ahead of yesterdays pace setter, Felipe Massa.  His teammate at STR, Sebastain Bourdais, could not match his pace and finished in 10th, almost a second off Vettel’s best lap. He did go faster than Honda though. Both Honda drivers struggled with there cars seeing Barrichello 0.3 seconds behind the French drivers time and Button the only man into the 1:25s.

Fernando Alonso was out for Renault, placing the car fifth. The other Renault powered car, in the hands of Mark Webber, ended up in seventh. Red Bull had been beaten by Force India who continued there good form with a 1:23.823 set by Adrain Sutil.

All the German drivers punched above their weight today and times spread out from Wednesday. Testing concludes in Monza tomorrow.

Results

1. Nick Heidfeld  BMW  1:22.621s  89 Laps
2. Nico Rosberg  Williams  1:22.879s  100 Laps
3. Heikki Kovalainen  McLaren  1:23.341s  92 Laps
4. Sebastian Vettel  Scuderia Toro Rosso  1:23.424s  47 Laps
5. Felipe Massa  Ferrari  1:23.445s  86 Laps
6. Fernando Alonso  Renault  1:23.606s  95 Laps
7. Adrian Sutil  Force India  1:23.823s  92 Laps
8. Mark Webber  Red Bull Racing  1:23.936s  101 Laps
9. Jarno Trulli  Toyota  1:24.158s  77 Laps
10. Sebastien Bourdais  Scuderia Toro Rosso  1:24.311s  44 Laps
11. Rubens Barrichello  Honda  1:24.695s  51 Laps
12. Jenson Button  Honda  1:25.058s  42 Laps

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