Heikki Kovalainen has admitted that the Caterham team thought that it would start the season having closed the gap on F1's established midfielders, but insists that he remains confident of closing the gap between now and the end of the year.
Now into its third year, Tony Fernandes' team is under pressure to home in on the likes of Toro Rosso, Sauber and Williams but, despite pre-season testing suggesting that it had found something in the CT-01, early races have shown that there was still a large gulf in performance as Kovalainen and team-mate Vitaly Petrov continued to qualifying, on average, 19th and 20th fastest, ahead only of fellow 2010 newcomers Marussia and HRT.
However, in the past couple of race weekends, there have been signs that Caterham may be clawing at the deficit, with both driver out-qualifying Jean-Eric Vergne in Canada, and the Finn getting the better of both STR pilots in opening practice for the European GP in Valencia. Although Friday's sessions rarely mean too much in the bigger scheme of things across a grand prix weekend, the Finn's effort underlined comments made in the previous day's press conference.
"I think it's fair to say that we were hoping to start the season closer to the cars in front of us," Kovalainen admitted, "Obviously, at winter testing, we thought we were closer but, when we arrived at the first few races, we were not as close as we thought.
"Since then, the team has made a lot of effort and, in my opinion, in all the right areas. I'm very happy to see that, [and] I think we are making good progress. Obviously, John Iley has joined us from McLaren very recently and I think, in the next few races, we'll see updates coming every race. For us, they feel like quite significant updates, but I think we need to wait and see how they translate onto circuits, actually on to the racetracks before really making too many predictions.
"The main point is that the team had grown a lot since last year and, since the beginning of the year, I think we have focused absolutely on the right areas to make that relative gain to the teams ahead of us. Whether we can do it or not, really on track, I think we need to wait and see. I think we can do it and I'm looking forward towards the end of the season more regularly beating the cars ahead of us."
The Valencia weekend marks the resumption of the European F1 season, which runs through to Italy in September before the series embarks on its final cluster of 'flyaway' races. The Circuito Urbano may not be Kovalainen's favourite - it was the scene of the notorious clash that pitched Mark Webber over the top of his Lotus a couple of years ago - he hopes that it could finally produce a maiden point for the Caterham squad.
"Look at the weather, look at the circuit - everything here is actually very, very good," he enthused, "I've had pretty good races in the past here. I was on the front row with McLaren in 2009, so there's nothing negative for me to day about that.
"That's all I can say really. I look forward to a good race. It is a street circuit, but not as hardcore as Monaco or Montreal. It's easier, the kerbs are easier. It's slightly smoother, so we can run the car very low. It's very, very smooth [and] I think, if you just find a good set-up on Friday and Saturday morning, it's really good fun to drive.
"In terms of competitiveness, whether we'll be closer to the cars ahead of us or not, it's hard to say yet. We need to wait and see where we are. But I'll definitely look forward to a good weekend. I think everyone here will have a good weekend, the weather looks fantastic."