Eric Boullier believes Hethel-backed Lotus should no longer be seen as second class team – and the Frenchman is confident they can fight with McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari.

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The Norfolk marque had a mixed opening weekend of 2012 in Australia. Romain Grosjean produced a superb qualifying effort to take third on the grid – but the returning Kimi Räikkönen did not make it past Q1. Come the race, Grosjean was dumped out on the opening lap following a collision, while Räikkönen rose to seventh.

“We knew our car was quite quick, but as for the others we had absolutely no clue,” said the Lotus team principal. “Saturday was a relief because you don’t reach the second row of the grid by chance. Our philosophy is that money does not buy wins and championships. For us, Formula One is all about being clever and cost efficient.

“People in Enstone have the right tools to push forward and we’re investing where we have to. That said, people should not think of us as a second class team. We are clearly among the most attractive outfits around.”

The second round of this year’s championship gets under way with free practice in Malaysia on Friday. And Melbourne winner Jenson Button believes Lotus can be a dark horse.

“Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in Australia, and I think we can expect further strong challenges from Mercedes and Lotus,” said Button.

Lotus ambassador and former Ferrari race winner Jean Alesi was even more optimistic over Lotus’ prospects: “The car should suit Sepang well,” he said.

“In testing it was particularly good in the fast turns, which is what defines the Malaysia track.

“Lotus appear to be quicker than everyone except McLaren.

“Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari have much bigger budgets. Lotus have a brilliant team at Enstone but it is really tough to match the development pace of the biggest teams, and that will be Lotus’ challenge.”

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