It feels wrong to suggest that for all that it has seemingly taken a giant leap forward over the winter months, Team Lotus - formerly Lotus Racing - will still finish only tenth in the constructors' world championship in F1 2011 and Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli respectively just 19th and 20th in the drivers' chase, but Tony Fernandes' boys will be one heck of a lot closer to the pace second time around.

Indubitably the best of the three newcomers last year, Team Lotus - or whatever it may or may not be called by the time we get to Melbourne for the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix this weekend - is no longer worrying itself with what the likes of Virgin and Hispania are up to, but rather is plotting its own path forwards as it speeds towards F1's midfield.

Although pre-season testing has been incredibly hard to accurately assess, the new Renault-powered T128 has looked to be fairly handy, but it is important to remember that Lotus' targets - the Williams', Force Indias, Saubers and Scuderia Toro Rossos of this world - will not have stood still either.

In 2010, there was consistently a sizeable gap between the lowest-placed of the more established contenders and the best-placed of the newcomers - and if Lotus has eradicated that, then it can be considered a triumph. If it actually succeeds in regularly outperforming any of its aforementioned rivals, then the progress made will have been phenomenal.

In its pairing of Trulli and Kovalainen, the Anglo/Malaysian outfit has the perfect blend of experience, speed and technical expertise, with the Italian still able to turn it on over a single lap like few of his adversaries, and the Finn's calm and methodical approach winning him many friends inside the camp. The big step up the pecking order may not come this year for Team Lotus, but have no doubt, it is on its way.

Crash.net World Championship Predictions

Jarno Trulli: 20th (2010: 21st)Heikki Kovalainen: 19th (2010: 20th)

Team Lotus: 10th (2010: 10th)

 

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