Heikki Kovalainen has lauded the 'really good progress' that has been made by F1 2010 newcomer Lotus Racing as the Anglo/Malaysian outfit readies itself to make its top flight bow in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix in just under a fortnight's time – and endeavours to close the gap on the sport's front-running competitors.
Lotus concluded the final pre-season test outing around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya just shy of five seconds adrift of the leading pace, and relatively closely-matched with fellow debutant Virgin Racing, which has similarly been afflicted by niggling technical and hydraulic woes, albeit to a rather greater extent.
With some good mileage under its belt at both Barcelona and Jerez the previous week, Lotus has now done all that it can in terms of on-track preparation prior to Sakhir. If there remains some work to do on the aerodynamics side in order to move closer to the front of the field, for a start-up operation – and one that got the green light to compete this year later than any of the other new teams – Kovalainen reckons the Hingham-based concern has done a pretty damn good job.
“I think we're better than I was expecting, to be honest,” the Finn told GPUpdate
. “I had my doubts that we'd make it to testing – when I joined the team I thought we weren't going to have enough time – but [the team] has been able to build and design the car, get it to the track and get it running quicker than I thought and that's good.
“Of course, in terms of performance we know we still need to do better, but I think – considering the fact that we haven't had more time to design and produce new parts – it's respectable where we are, and we can be pleased about that. If you look at the times and consider that we've had five-and-a-half months to design and build a car and team, I think that's pretty amazing, and we're running already like a professional racing team.
“I've had a lot of good feedback from guys at McLaren – obviously I know those guys – and they said that it looks fantastic and that Lotus looks like a big team already, so that's encouraging. We can go to Bahrain knowing that we can work as a professional racing team; we can do the pit-stops [and] the whole operation like a professional racing team needs to do. I look forward to finishing the race and hopefully ahead of the other new teams – I think that has to be our target.”
That Kovalainen feels 'comfortable' in the cockpit of the Mike Gascoyne-penned, Cosworth-powered T127 and has been able to 'push straightaway' in testing is a further positive sign – even if the 28-year-old did push a little too
hard first time out when he redesigned the car against Jerez's crash barriers.
Substantial mileage has now been completed – the majority of it trouble-free – and the Suomussalmi native described the four days in Barcelona as 'a very good test overall' and 'much, much better' than the previous week at Jerez, leaving Lotus in promising shape as it prepares to take on F1's incumbents in the desert kingdom.
“We've found a really good direction with the set-up and we just need to carry [that] on,” he underlined. “The hydraulic system is the weak link of the car – we've had some issues [with that]. We're updating the system all the time, finding another problem then fixing that, then another problem comes along, but in my opinion the problems are getting much smaller now and we're just talking about some seals or some connectors which are not working 100 per cent, so I'm not concerned about that. I think that, when we have a good look at the car in the factory, we'll be able to overcome that and then complete the race distance in Bahrain – that's the target.”