Heikki Kovalainen acknowledged that after a troublesome birth for the new Team Lotus T128, a sizeable step forward during testing at Jerez today is 'very encouraging' – and he promised, too, that there remains 'a lot more to come'.
Team Lotus' pre-season F1 2011 preparations have been beset thus far by incessant reliability niggles that made it difficult to accurately assess its new car's true pace – but on a warm and sunny day underneath the southern Spanish skies, a glimpse of the T128's potential has at last been gleaned.
Kovalainen produced a relatively late lap to snare seventh spot on the final timing screens, less than one-and-a-half seconds adrift of Nick Heidfeld's benchmark for Lotus Renault GP, within touching-distance of defending double world champions Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso and ahead of Williams and Force India. It was, the Finn recognised, something of a breakthrough.
“Today was very encouraging and I really enjoyed driving the car,” the 29-year-old enthused. “I still have the same feeling that I had in Valencia – it's fundamentally a good car, and there's a lot more to come from it. We managed to make very good progress, and even though we had a problem with the exhaust, we still managed to get through most of the programme.
“The guys worked well to fix the problem, and by the end of the day we had made a number of set-up changes, run through all the tyre compounds and run on a variety of fuel loads. This morning we tried the DRS (Drag Reduction System – a.k.a. moveable rear wing) in race mode, and even though I had thought the procedure to initiate it might be pretty complicated, it actually all worked easily. Once you get used to it, the system is pretty simple.
“I used it in both race and practice mode, and it returns to position well so I have no problems under braking and am very happy with how it all works. By the time the day ended we finished right in the mix, so we're all pretty happy with the day's work.”
“I think we are all quite pleased with how the day went,” concurred the Anglo/Malaysian outfit's sporting director, Dieter Gass. “The morning and late afternoon sessions were good, and even though we lost some time on-track around the middle of the day with the exhaust problem, we were still able to learn a lot more about the car and complete most of the programme.
“One of the key learnings from today is with the tyres. I think we have a lot more work to do to really understand how to get the best out of them, but we have definitely taken a step forward with Pirelli. We also tested the DRS in race conditions, and it was our first chance to try the proximity system – that worked very well, and it was good to see it in action as it will be used in race scenarios.”
To see the testing times in full, click here