Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen are almost inseparable in the F1 2012 drivers' standings, and will line up fourth and fifth respectively ahead of the European Grand Prix in Valencia.

Following four podiums already this season, and with the team's qualifying Achilles heel apparently sorted, the duo - who were separated by just 0.008 of a second - look like they will be in a strong position to challenge again tomorrow.

Grosjean, in particular, looked in fine form, and could have gone even faste but for making a small error on his final run in Q3. Nevertheless, the Frenchman was in a buoyant mood afterwards, at the scene of his F1 debut in 2009.

"Today we got pretty much the most out of the car that we could have," he admitted, "P4 is a good position for the start of the race but, of course, you want always more and to do better. Sebastian did an unbelievable lap and today we could not have matched it."

"We have improved our qualifying performance, but there is still room to do better. Tyre degradation will be more important than what we saw at the last race. There will be 57 laps in hot conditions on Sunday; we will see what we can do for a good race tomorrow."

Grosjean may well have been remembering his first F1 podium in Bahrain back in April, another race all about managing tyre wear in hot conditions, and hoping that the result will be similar if not even better this weekend.

Raikkonen will have cause for optimism too. He finished second in Bahrain, but only started eleventh, and may well feel that, from fifth on the grid, he has a chance at taking the first race victory of his comeback.

"It was very close in qualifying, especially in Q2, so it's good to be fifth on the grid," he noted, "The car felt good. It is an improvement on last time out, so I'm very happy with that. We found a few good things with the set-up this morning to make the car easier to drive. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. The car usually goes well in the race when it's hot, so let's see what we can do."

Director of trackside operations Alan Permane was in an optimistic mood after qualifying, but said that the team's improved result in qualifying wasn't a result of a different approach to the session.

"We haven't done anything radically different from previous grands prix," he claimed, "We've certainly had a smoother weekend so far than we did last time out in Montr?al, and we seem well suited on the soft tyres. We've looked at the data and given greater consideration to qualifying pace, but our race preparations remain the same."

He followed on from this statement by issuing a stark warning to his rivals about the potential of his drivers around the street circuit.

"We've come from much further back on the grid than P4 or P5 and finished very well, so we have good confidence heading into tomorrow's race," he said, "It's open for a one-, two-, or three-stop strategy tomorrow. It's likely to be a very hot race which will give the tyres a hard time and we're confident in those conditions."

If there were to be an eighth different winner in eight races this weekend, the smart money could well be on one of the Lotus pairing with their strong starting positions, and many inside the paddock feel it is only a matter of time until the outfit take their first victory in almost four years.

by Philip Barclay

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