Tony Fernandes insists that he is not too disappointed with the performance of his Caterham F1 team in the opening two rounds of the 2012 world championship, despite neither car actually fighting with the established midfield runners.

Strong starts and pit-stop windows apart, both Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov continue to find themselves in the no mans land between the likes of Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber and backmarkers HRT and Marussia, too good for one group, but not quite quick enough to join the other.

Fernandes remains unbowed, however, insisting that he is happy with the gains made by the Hingham-based team's own 2011 standards, and promising that has not yet reached its 2012 peak.

"We have a long-term plan to achieve our goals and, while this is year three, it is also still the early stages of our development," he told the official F1 website.

"In year one, we just had to finish tenth - a pretty sensational achievement in its own right, having started from literally zero six months before the first race. In year two, we had to reinforce our position in the top ten teams and continue to build the foundations. In year three, we have closed the gap further to the teams ahead, but there is still work to do to make us truly competitive with the established teams who have decades of experience behind them.

"In Malaysia, we did show the sort of race pace we enjoyed in Australia, where both cars were posting similar lap times to teams who were regular points scorers in 2011. And, if you take where the reigning champion finished, then we walked home from a very difficult race with our heads held high!

"For sure, we know how hard it is to bridge the gap to the midfield and we are fighting like tigers to do that - at our home race in Malaysia and at every race we compete in worldwide."

Despite the gap between Caterham and the midfield, which has reduced but not disappeared, Fernandes insists that his outfit is among the few to have found pace over the winter which, he says, bodes well for the future, despite neither car finishing in Australia and recording a best of 16th, with Petrov, in the Malaysian race.

"The goal for mid-season is the same as it is for the whole year ahead," he claimed, "We know what is achievable, and breaking into the midfield is a huge challenge, so the reasonable target is tenth again. The 'stretch' target - what we want to push everyone to achieve - is to be fighting in the midfield pack and, when you look back to the pace we showed in Australia, that is not beyond the realms of possibility.

"Looking at the data comparisons between where we were last year and where we have started 2012, it is evident that we have improved. Only a couple of teams have found time and we are one of them. Now we need to keep working as hard as we can to improve our qualifying performance, make sure we are bulletproof reliability-wise, and never give up."

Fernandes is also confident that his new driver partnership can gel into a useful pairing, despite Petrov's relative late arrival as replacement for veteran Jarno Trulli.

"Jarno played an incredibly important role in the first two years of our team," the Malaysian reflected, "He and Heikki both gave us the experience and the push we needed from day one to ensure we finished tenth in our first two seasons, and to set the standards we needed to mirror the teams they had both been with before joining us.

"In 2011, Jarno finished in positions that helped us seal that all-important tenth place in the championship, but he would be the first to say he was probably coming to the end of his time in F1. He had a long and very successful career, and we are very thankful we were able to work with him for our first two years.

"We wanted to bring in some new talent, and Vitaly has proven to be an incredibly good acquisition for the team. He is quick, he is talented and he has settled in immediately. A few people said to me that he was quite quiet, but the opposite has proven to be true. He is hungry, he is very eager to keep proving he has the talent to mix it at the top and he has a great sense of humour. He has brought new energy to his side of the garage and we are all delighted he is with us.

"Funnily enough, his hometown is close to the border with Finland, so against the historical background of that part of the world, he is forming a good partnership with Heikki and that can only be good for the team."



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