Heikki Kovalainen has described the difference between the Lotus Racing of twelve months ago and the Team Lotus that is heading into the fast-approaching F1 2011 World Championship campaign as 'like night and day' – as he insisted that he is 'more convinced than ever' that his decision to join the team was the right one.
Of course, it was quite a contrast for Kovalainen to leave a team that has won the world championship on no fewer than 20 occasions – twelve drivers' crowns and eight constructors' trophies – in McLaren-Mercedes to one that had never so much as begun a grand prix before this time last year in Lotus, and his descent from the forefront of the grid to making up the numbers was arguably the biggest fall from grace of any driver in the field.
However, the Finn's steely determination, ever-sunny outlook and impressive raw pace and racecraft in F1 2010 did much to repair the damage that had been done to his reputation by the bruising comparison with Lewis Hamilton over the previous two seasons – and he is confident that the progress and potential of the new Mike Gascoyne-designed, Renault-powered T128 in testing thus far will fully vindicate his occasionally-criticised move and enable the Anglo/Malaysian outfit to close the gap to the midfield contenders.
“In terms of speed, the car looks a lot better than where we were a year ago,” the 29-year-old told Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat
, in upbeat spirits after encouragingly lapping just 1.8 seconds adrift of the outright pace during pre-season testing at Jerez last week – and a scant six tenths shy of McLaren pairing Hamilton and Jenson Button – as he placed a head-turning sixth on the final day.
“The balance is much better, it has more grip and it can be driven harder. The chassis is also much more modern and the engine, gearbox and hydraulic system have been completely upgraded – we are now at the level that a modern F1 car should be. I'm not thinking about whether or not we are going to catch up with Toro Rosso, Force India or Sauber, but my personal goal is to score points in those races in which it is possible.
“When comparing the mood in the garage and the team's progress from a year ago, it's like night and day. I'm really happy with it. As a team we have definitely taken a step forward, which I expected. I am more convinced than ever that the move to Lotus was a good decision.”