Narain Karthikeyan says qualifying should no longer be an issue for the HRT team, with the focus for the Spanish backmarkers being to close the gap to the cars ahead.

Karthikeyan and team-mate Pedro de la Rosa were forced to miss the season opener in Australia after failing to qualify, although the pair then managed to make it into the race in Malaysia and secured a double finish.

Speaking ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend in Shanghai, Karthikeyan insisted that qualifying shouldn't be an issue for the team again this season but said it was clear that improvements need to be made.

"I think qualifying within the 107 per cent is no longer a problem, but we need to improve for sure," he said. "We need to reduce the gap. If you take our lap times from last year, we have not improved so much. From the numbers we had, we were hoping that the car would take a significant step forward but that is not the case right now. We know the reasons, there is a wind tunnel programme and we're trying to improve it.

"The start of the year wasn't very good because we missed all the testing and then we came to Australia with a new car and like all new cars, it had a lot of problems with cooling and hydraulics and few laps. Clearly our car is still lacking a lot of downforce, which is the biggest problem.

"Pedro de la Rosa is quite good to help the team to go in the right direction, he has a lot of experience with big teams, so we're trying to improve. It's still a very small team and we have limited resources but I can see that the structure is a lot stronger than last year. There are some good people in the team and so we will improve quite a lot at the Mugello test hopefully."

Karthikeyan added that the current situation the team finds itself in made it difficult for the drivers behind the wheel, with the lack of pace meaning they are spending much of race day watching their mirrors and being unable to push forwards.

"After the first 15 laps or so, it's very difficult because a lot of blue flags," he said. "I think at the last race there were something like 36 blue flags so it's quite difficult. The car is obviously five or six seconds off the pace and in tricky conditions like when we switched to dry tyres, with less downforce and it's so hard to drive and the car is a handful to drive in completely dry conditions, so in mixed conditions it's really difficult. But it is what it is, this is what I have and I will try to do the best with what I have."

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